Around 15 years ago, Epstein and his colleague at Northeastern, microbiologist Kim Lewis, starting toying with a new approach to this problem. The natural environment teems with bacteria, which suggested to the researchers that this environment holds key ingredients that hadn’t yet been discovered, let alone replicated in the lab. Maybe these molecules are nutrients or growth factors, or maybe they provide signals that trigger bacteria to grow at just the right moment. Maybe they are something else entirely. But the researchers didn’t need to know exactly what those components were in order to put them to work. Rather than pull bacteria from their natural setting and coax them to grow in a coarse approximation in the lab, why not simply bring the whole environment to the lab, mystery molecules an all?