Researchers find a way to detect stealthy, 'hypervirulent' Salmonella strains

Apr 12, 2012
Salmonella typhimurium (red) invades cultured human cells in this color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph. Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

A recent discovery of "hypervirulent" Salmonella bacteria has given UC Santa Barbara researchers Michael Mahan and Douglas Heithoff a means to potentially prevent food poisoning outbreaks from these particularly powerful strains. Their findings, in a paper titled "Intraspecies Variation in the Emergence of Hyperinfectious Bacterial Strains in Nature," have been published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

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 that would tax current health-control efforts. To address this problem, researchers sought out -- and found -- hypervirulent strains that present a potential risk to and the livestock industry.

An international team of scientists -- which also included Robert Sinsheimer and William Shimp from UCSB; Yi Xie and Bart Weimer from UC Davis; and John House from University of Sydney, Australia –– 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," said 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," said Professor 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 from eating contaminated beef, chicken, or eggs. However, animal waste can contaminate fields where fruits, nuts, and vegetables are grown, thus posing a particular health concern for vegetarians. The threat is exacerbated when these foods are not cooked. 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 said.

Explore further: Life's extremists may be an untapped source of antibacterial drugs

More information: dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1002647

Related Stories

Salmonella in garden birds responsive to antibiotics

Jun 02, 2008

Scientists at the University of Liverpool have found that Salmonella bacteria found in garden birds are sensitive to antibiotics, suggesting that the infection is unlike the bacteria found in livestock and humans.

The time is ripe for Salmonella

Mar 26, 2012

The ripeness of fruit could determine how food-poisoning bacteria grow on them, according to scientists presenting their work at the Society for General Microbiology's Spring Conference in Dublin this week. ...

Discovery paves way for salmonella vaccine

Feb 13, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- An international research team led by a University of California, Davis, immunologist has taken an important step toward an effective vaccine against salmonella, a group of increasingly antibiotic-resistant ...

Research traces bacteria in salmonella outbreaks

Aug 31, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- During such mass food-poisoning outbreaks as the recent contamination of ground turkey, speedy identification of the bacteria involved can save lives and reduce illness. New research co-authored ...

Recommended for you

Cohesin molecule safeguards cell division

Nov 21, 2014

The cohesin molecule ensures the proper distribution of DNA during cell division. Scientists at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna can now prove the concept of its carabiner-like ...

Nail stem cells prove more versatile than press ons

Nov 21, 2014

There are plenty of body parts that don't grow back when you lose them. Nails are an exception, and a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reveals some of the r ...

Scientists develop 3-D model of regulator protein bax

Nov 21, 2014

Scientists at Freie Universität Berlin, the University of Tubingen, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) provide a new 3D model of the protein Bax, a key regulator of cell death. When active, Bax ...

Researchers unwind the mysteries of the cellular clock

Nov 20, 2014

Human existence is basically circadian. Most of us wake in the morning, sleep in the evening, and eat in between. Body temperature, metabolism, and hormone levels all fluctuate throughout the day, and it ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.