Genome researchers dive deep to differentiate dangerous Staph

Mapping the human genome to gain a better understanding of our susceptibility to disease is the cutting edge of precision medicine. But what about mapping bacterial genomes to better understand the threat they pose to us?

That's what researchers from the University of California at San Diego have begun to do with Staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria responsible for a huge number of hospital-acquired infections, but some forms of which are totally innocuous to humans. Their work is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The most exciting thing about this study is the computational ability to analyze so many strains simultaneously — an unlimited number, really — to better understand the interrelationships between fundamental metabolism of the organisms and its virulence, or ability to cause human disease," Victor Nizet, MD, co-author of the study, said in a statement.

The average Staph genome has 2,800 genes, but by analyzing 64 strains of the bacteria, the researchers were able to produce a "core genome" comprised of more than 7,400 genes. They expect to be able to use this genomic information to better understand why some strains of Staph can survive in certain environments, why some are so harmful to us when others have no effect and what makes them resistant to antibiotic treatments.

The research, which is funded in part by a $9.5 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, could also lead the development of new therapeutics, according to the authors. 

More articles on infection control:

Chemistry professors work to find a weapon against the untreatable superbug 
Researchers identify genes that increase children's risk of blood infection 
Oklahoma researchers find new way to fight MRSA 

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