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The Big Take

These Tiny Organisms Are Key to Stopping the Next Pandemic

Preventing more pandemics hinges on better understanding the billions of tiny pathogens circulating in nature.

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Photo illustration: 731; Photos: Getty Images

When a respiratory virus sweeps away almost 15 million lives in two years, as Covid-19 has, according to a May 5 World Health Organization estimate that includes indirect deaths, it’s a ­savage hit to humanity.

A single microbe has destabilized health-care systems, unbalanced economies, and confounded government leaders worldwide. Even as we cope with the Covid crisis, nature keeps throwing new challenges at us, ranging from an outbreak of rare viral monkeypox to an unexplained run of child hepatitis. It’s a humbling moment for Homo sapiens, accustomed as we are to doling out crushing blows to other life forms rather than having them rock our own.