In the 1960's and early 1970's, government support of basic research was at a high point, but, starting in the mid-1970's, harder times appeared. This pressure, coupled with the desire to show the immediate relevance of research in response to ongoing social upheaval, induced many of our colleagues at other institutions to shift their efforts to mammalian cells. Wholesale conversions of microbiology departments were not uncommon. We held our ground, however, and were rewarded by the development of two areas of research that validated maintaining a strong presence in fundamental microbiology. The revolution created by recombinant DNA technology occurred almost simultaneously with the realization that the mysteries of bacterial pathogenesis could be unraveled using the basic tools of molecular microbiology.
Several department members began to take an active interest in microbial virulence mechanisms. Malamy took on the anaerobic pathogen, Bacteroides fragilis, as a research system and Wright began to study Haemophilus influenzae and, later, Helicobacter pylori and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Sonenshein expanded his interest in spore-formers to include Clostridium perfringens and C. difficile.