Stanley Falkow

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Stanley Falkow

Stanley Falkow.jpg
Falkow in 2009
Born(1934-01-24)January 24, 1934
DiedMay 5, 2018(2018-05-05) (aged 84)
Alma materUniversity of Maine
OccupationMicrobiologist and professor
Scientific career
ThesisAn episomic element in a strain of Salmonella typhosa (1960)

Stanley Falkow (January 24, 1934 – May 5, 2018) was an American microbiologist and a professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine. He discovered molecular mechanisms of infectious diseases, like antibiotic resistance and sounded the alarm for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. He championed the benefits of microorganisms. He formulated molecular Koch's postulates, which have guided the study of the microbial determinants of infectious diseases since the late 1980s.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Falkow was born into a Yiddish-speaking household in Albany, New York. His father was a shoe salesman and had immigrated from Soviet Kiev, Ukraine.[2] His mother came from a family of Jewish immigrants from Poland. She "rented several of their bedrooms and later opened a corset shop".[3]

Falkow attributed his early interest in microbiology to reading Microbe Hunters in 1943, when he was 11 years old, which he found at the public library after the family had moved to Newport, Rhode Island. The book is a dramatization of microbiological research written by American microbiologist Paul de Kruif.[4] Because of poor grades until his senior year of high school, an adviser suggested military rather than college.[3]


Falkow enrolled in biology at the University of Maine, because of their microbiology department. During the summers he worked in pathology at the hospital in Newport, staining slides and assisting in autopsies. He graduated in 1955. [3] Before he even started graduate school at University of Michigan, he developed acute anxiety. He avoided movie theaters between 1956 and 1961 and dropped out of University, because of recurring panic attacks.[2] He switched to Brown University and graduated with a PhD in 1961.[3]

He became a staff member at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) in the Department of Bacterial Immunology, where he was eventually named the assistant chief of the department.[5]

His early work in the 1960s focused on the genetic mechanisms, which enable bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics. He showed that organisms, such as shigella, can possess DNA fragments called plasmids which exist apart from the bacterial chromosome, and that they carry specialized information for survival. Under selective pressure from antibiotics, one species of bacteria can pass its plasmids to another directly without mating, thereby preserving its own specialized survival genes.

In 1966, he joined Georgetown University School of Medicine as a professor of microbiology. He later moved to Seattle to join the faculty of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Here he described how meningitis and gonorrhea organisms acquire plasmids to become resistant to penicillin and other antibiotics.

In the 1970s, Falkow shifted his focus to the infection process. During this period, he showed that a life-threatening diarrhea prevalent in many developing countries is caused by a sub-type of E. coli. He also co-authored (with Royston C. Clowes, Stanley N. Cohen, Roy Curtiss III, Naomi Datta and Richard Novick) a proposal for uniform nomenclature for bacterial plasmids.[6]

In 1981, he was named chairman of the Department of Medical Microbiology at Stanford University School of Medicine, a position he held until 1985. While at Stanford, Falkow encouraged Esther Lederberg to continue directing the Stanford Plasmid Reference Center, an internationally used registry for plasmids, transposons and insertion sequences.[7])

Personal life and death[edit]

Stanley Falkow was married to Rhoda Ostroff with whom he had two daughters. They divorced.[3] In 1983, he married Lucy Tompkins, a former graduate student and infectious diseases specialist at Stanford.[3] In 2004 he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome and given a prognosis of two years.[3]

He died on May 5, 2018 at the age of 84 at his home in Portola Valley, California of myelodysplastic syndrome.[8]

Contributions and honors[edit]

Falkow has been referred to as the father of molecular microbial pathogenesis, the study of how infectious microbes and host cells interact to cause disease at the molecular level.[9] Falkow adopted the perspective of viewing infection as a process that is ultimately mediated by the host.[citation needed] He discovered that infectious microbes employ genes that are activated only inside host cells. His work carries clinical applications, such as a new vaccine for whooping cough.[citation needed]

Falkow published numerous articles, and served on the editorial boards of several professional publications. He received numerous awards for his achievements in science, including the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Infectious Disease Research,[10] the Altemeier Medal from the Surgical Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Howard Taylor Ricketts Award Lecture at the University of Chicago, and the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize. In 2003, he received the Abbott Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society for Microbiology and the Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology from the National Academy of Sciences.[11] He received the Robert Koch Award in 2000.[12]

Falkow was elected President of the American Society for Microbiology from July 1997 through June 1998. He was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 1997 and received the Maxwell Finland Award from the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases in 1999. He also received in 1999 an Honorary Doctor of Science, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario and the University of Maine Alumni Career Award. He has received honorary doctorates in Europe and the US.

Dr. Falkow was an elected member of the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was also elected into the UK's Royal Society as a Foreign Member.

In September 2008, Falkow was awarded the Lasker Award for medical research.[13]



  1. ^ Falkow S (1988). "Molecular Koch's postulates applied to microbial pathogenicity." Rev Infect Dis 10(Suppl 2):S274-S276.
  2. ^ a b Sandeep Ravindran. Curious About Everything Stanford Alumni Magazine, September/October 2011, retrieved June 22 2018
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Harrison Smith Stanley Falkow, microbiologist who studied bacteria and the diseases they cause, dies at 84 Washington Post, 12 May 2018, retrieved 21 June 2018
  4. ^ "Stanley Falkow, Father of Molecular Microbial Pathogenesis, Dies". The Scientist. Retrieved May 10, 2018.
  5. ^ National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Stanley Falkow, Ph.D. Archived July 3, 2007, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on July 4, 2007
  6. ^ Richard P. Novick et al., "Uniform Nomenclature for Bacterial Plasmids: A Proposal", Bacteriol. Rev., March 1976, pp. 168–189.
  7. ^ See; click "Special Topics", "Plasmid Reference Center Funding Issues", then "Falkow"
  8. ^ Kolata, Gina (May 10, 2018). "Stanley Falkow, Who Saw How Bacteria Cause Disease, Dies at 84". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 11, 2018. Retrieved May 11, 2018.
  9. ^ The Double Helix NFID to Honor Dr. Falkow Archived September 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on July 4, 2007
  10. ^ Bristol-Myers Squibb Awards for Distinguished Achievement Retrieved on July 16, 2007
  11. ^ "Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on December 29, 2010. Retrieved February 15, 2011.
  12. ^ ISI Highly Cited Falkow, Stanley Archived September 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on July 12, 2007
  13. ^ Altman, Lawrence K. (September 13, 2008). "5 Pioneering Scientists Win Lasker Medical Prizes". New York Times.

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