Researchers Discover How Bacteria Become Lethal

Researchers at Scripps University have discovered how bacteria become lethal. When bacteria enter the body, they are initially harmless. Bicarbonate in our organs and body fluid helps us maintain normal PH, otherwise described as alkalinity or acidity. If normal PH is not maintained, metabolic disturbance occurs that can lead to physical distress and serious illness. Unfortunately, bicarbonate also teams up with bacteria to cause much harm.

The researchers discovered how bacteria become activated to cause death while exploring the lethal effects of Anthrax. Bicarbonate tells the bacteria to attack. Without the help of bicarbonate, which acts as a transport, anthrax bacteria were found to be harmless.The study is published in the November 21 edition of the journal PLoS Pathogens. The findings are significant, because other bacteria, such as E.coli, likely behave in the same fashion.

Scientists have known that bicarbonate plays a key role in activating bacteria after it enters the body. Until now, they haven’t been sure if a combination of events happened that make some bacteria lethal. Antibiotic resistance is a global health problem. Understanding how bicarbonate transport bacteria to make them virulent should lead to the development of newer classes of drugs to treat infections that are resistant to many antibiotics.

Marta Perego, Ph.D., conducted the study in conjunction with Scripps Research postdoctoral fellow Adam Wilson, Ph.D., and colleagues. The urgent need for new antibiotics has spawned researchers to look for newer treatments to save lives.

Understanding the mechanism of how bacteria become lethal has much potential for treating hospital and community acquired infections. Patients who are immunocompromised, elderly, or otherwise debilitated are especially at risk for death when infections don’t respond to currently available treatments.

Kathleen Blanchard RN

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