In 1988, Stanley Falkow (1934–) proposed a revised form of Koch’s postulates known as molecular Koch’s postulates. These are listed in the left column of the table above. The premise for molecular Koch’s postulates is not in the ability to isolate a particular pathogen but rather to identify a gene that may cause the organism to be pathogenic.
Falkow’s modifications to Koch’s original postulates explain not only infections caused by intracellular pathogens but also the existence of pathogenic strains of organisms that are usually nonpathogenic. For example, the predominant form of the bacterium Escherichia coli is a member of the normal microbiota of the human intestine and is generally considered harmless. However, there are pathogenic strains of E. coli such as enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) and enterohemorrhagic E. coli (O157:H7) (EHEC). We now know ETEC and EHEC exist because of the acquisition of new genes by the once-harmless E. coli, which, in the form of these pathogenic strains, is now capable of producing toxins and causing illness. The pathogenic forms resulted from minor genetic changes. The right-side column of the table above illustrates how molecular Koch’s postulates can be applied to identify EHEC as a pathogenic bacterium.
As with Koch’s original postulates, the molecular Koch’s postulates have limitations. For example, genetic manipulation of some pathogens is not possible using current methods of molecular genetics. In a similar vein, some diseases do not have suitable animal models, which limits the utility of both the original and molecular postulates.
Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology