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• Sabrina Richards reports that researchers uncovered information about the way that Legionnaires’ bacterium succeeds – possibly informing efforts to fight Legionnaires’.
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Researchers have discovered one way the bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease successfully lives in contaminated water supplies: by killing off its neighbors. The study, published today in the journal eLife by scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, reveals the unexpected molecular poison the bacterium uses to do so — and suggests a potential way to prevent an illness that strikes about 6,000 people each year in the U.S.
Lead scientist Dr. Tera Levin’s interest in the project was piqued when she grew Legionella pneumophila on culture plates and saw that nearby bacteria died off. Levin, a postdoctoral fellow in Hutch geneticist Dr. Harmit Malik’s laboratory, was surprised to discover that L. pneumophila uses a common molecule called HGA to kill off neighboring bacteria, ensuring more nutrients (and better growing conditions) for itself. It just so happens that a compound that inhibits L. pneumophila’s ability to produce HGA already exists, although it’s too soon to know if it could play a role in public health, the researchers said.
Levin added that HGA is made by many other bacterial species, and it may be that some of them also use HGA as a weapon and could be similarly inhibited. She also found that L. pneumophila only produces HGA under specific conditions, suggesting that it may use a previously unknown strategy to “count” the number of kin, or genetically identical bacterial cells, nearby.
Read the full article about Legionnaires’ by Sabrina Richards at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
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