This afternoon BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting the first of a series of 4 short programs in which microbiologists discuss their relationships with their favourite microbes.
Program 1 (29th August):
Dr Hazel Barton takes Jolyon Jenkins underground in the hunt for Pelagibacter ubique. First discovered in the Sargasso Sea in the 1970s, Pelagibacter lives on practically nothing. But can it survive in cave rocks, deep under the Kentucky countryside?
Program 2 (30th August):
Prof Keith Dumbell has been researching the smallpox virus since 1947 and was part of the successful campaign in the 1960s and 70s to eliminate smallpox from the globe.
In the process, he built up the world's largest private collection of smallpox strains. He tells Jolyon Jenkins about his relationship with the virus, and the sadness he felt when, in the interests of safety, he had to relinquish his collection.
Program 3 (31st August):
Prof Dorothy Crawford tells Jolyon Jenkins about her relationship with the Epstein-Barr virus, an elusive bug that causes neck tumours in African children, nasal tumours in Chinese adults and glandular fever in western teenagers. Despite researching it for 20 years, she still finds it a mystery how a virus can cause such disparate effects.
'I admire it', she says. 'I don't want to give it a personality, but it is very clever, amazing. I also find it rather irritating.'
Program 4 (1st September):
Prof Hugh Pennington at Aberdeen University has studied the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus since the 1960s and was himself infected with it in his nose during an outbreak that swept through British hospitals at that time.
Staph A is now better known as MRSA, the superbug that has evolved resistance to most antibiotics. Prof Pennington tells Jolyon Jenkins about the history of the bug, which was discovered by one of his predecessors in Aberdeen in the 19th century, and the series of mistakes that turned a common or garden bug into a major health threat.
For up to a week after each program is broadcast you should be able to listen to it at the program web page.