Scientists reveal six changing faces of ‘global killer’ bacteria

Posted by ap507 at Sep 30, 2014 04:05 PM |
Unlocking vital new information to improve vaccinations against pneumoccocus infection
Scientists reveal six changing faces of ‘global killer’ bacteria

Image shows bacteria multiplying and forming flat and dome shaped colonies

Every ten seconds a human being dies from pneumoccocus infection, the main cause of illnesses such as pneumonia, meningitis and sinusitis, making it a leading global killer.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers led by Professor Marco Oggioni from the Department of Genetics in collaboration with international experts has revealed a genetic switch controlling the disease that allows the bacterium to randomly change its characteristics into six alternative states that could pave the way to improved vaccines.

The discovery indicates the ability of the pneumococcus to cause deadly infections is different in each of these six states and each form is randomly generated by a phase variable methylation system, as if the bacteria were playing dice and assigning themselves to any one of the six potential outcomes.

To support the findings the team required careful mathematical analysis of the data, which was carried out by a team led by Professor Alexander Gorban from the Department of Mathematics.

The study, ‘A random six-phase switch regulates pneumococcal virulence via global epigenetic changes‘, has been published in the scientific journal Nature Communications and was funded by the 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission’s Marie Curie ITN STARS the PNEUMOPATH projects, the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and the Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund and supported by innovative sequencing technology from Pacific Biosciences.