Sugar additive linked to rise of more virulent C. diff

The introduction of trehalose — a naturally occurring glucose — as a sugar additive into the human diet likely contributed to the rise of virulent strains of Clostridium difficile in North America and Europe, according to a study published in the journal Nature.

For the study, researchers sought to identify the mechanism behind C. diff's growing prevalence in the hospital-setting by examining two particularly infectious strains of the bacteria — RT027 and RT078. The researchers noticed both strains were apt at using low concentrations of trehalose as a sole source of carbon. However, the mechanisms by which each strain utilized the sugar differed, suggesting each developed the trait independently.

Researchers removed the gene for trehalose metabolism in RT027 and introduced the infection to mice. The modified strain was less virulent than the unmodified RT027 C. diff strain. When trehalose was introduced to the diets of mice infected with unaltered RT027, the mice experienced a higher risk of death.

"[T]he correlative findings of … [the] study are compelling," Jimmy Ballard, PhD a professor in microbiology with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City who was not involved in the study, wrote in a commentary on the findings, according to the Los Angeles Times. "It is impossible to know all the details of events surrounding the recent C. difficile epidemics, but the circumstantial and experimental evidence points to trehalose as an unexpected culprit."

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