Top Stories - Posted by Sonia Fernandez-UCSB on Monday, April 16, 2012 9:54 - 0 Comments
Extreme salmonella’s Trojan Horse trick
UC SANTA BARBARA (US) — The recent discovery of “hypervirulent” Salmonella bacteria has given researchers a way to potentially prevent food poisoning outbreaks.
Straight from the Source
Salmonella is the most common cause of infection, hospitalization, and death due to foodborne illness in the U.S. This burden may continue to worsen due to the emergence of new strains that would tax current health-control efforts. To address this problem, researchers sought out—and found—hypervirulent strains that present a potential risk to food safety and the livestock industry.
The team of scientists conducted a global search for hypervirulent Salmonella strains. They were found among isolates derived from livestock, and rendered current vaccines obsolete.
Bacteria behave like a Trojan Horse, exposing their weapons only after initiating infection. “These strains exhibit this behavior in the extreme—essentially having a ’5th gear’ they can switch to during infection,” says Heithoff, lead author of the paper.
Previous efforts to find hypervirulent strains were unsuccessful since bacteria behave much like their less-virulent cousins after environmental exposure. “The trick was to assess their virulence during infection—before they switch back to a less-virulent state in the lab,” says Mahan.
Now that researchers know what to look for, they are developing methods to rapidly detect and discriminate the more harmful strains from their less-virulent cousins.
The strategy is aided by a special medium utilized by the researchers that forces the bacteria to reveal their weapons in the laboratory—the first step in the design of therapeutics to combat them.
Humans usually get Salmonella food poisoning from eating contaminated beef, chicken, or eggs. However, animal waste can contaminate fields where fruits, nuts, and vegetables are grown, thus also posing a health concern for vegetarians.
The threat is exacerbated when these foods are not cooked. Salmonella control efforts are expensive—recent estimates place this cost up to $14.6 billion annually in the U.S.
As hypervirulent strains pose a potential risk to human and animal health, mitigation efforts warrant researchers’ careful attention. “Now that we have identified the problem—and potential solutions—we just need to get to work,” Heithoff says.
Additional researchers from University of California, Santa Barbara; University of California, Davis; and the University of Sydney in Australia contributed to the study.
The G. Harold & Leila Y. Mathers Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Army, and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Research Program provided funding for the research.
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