Researchers at Allegheny General Hospital have made a key discovery in the evolutionary nature of bacteria in chronic infectious disease. Dr. Garth Ehrlich, scientific director of the Center for Genomic Sciences at AGH, says the research team found that a group of highly-related bacterial strains change genetically so fast that it is likely nearly impossible for the host's immune system to effective track and eradicate the infection.
Dr. Ehrlich says the team documented the first evidence that bacteria alter their genetic makeup in real-time to circumvent the immune system...
"Much like we see with other successful pathogens, such as viruses and certain parasitic organisms, which are designed to mutate and confuse the immune system, bacteria--which cause the vast majority of chronic infectious disease in the United States--appear to be using a similar tactic. And they are doing so through a dynamic, real-time process of altering their genetic code that until now has not been understood and which is counter to conventional wisdom about the typical pace of species evolution."
Bacterial infections have traditionally been studied under the assumption that a single genetic organism is at the heart of any single case of infection. But this new research shows that many chronic infections are the result of multiple strains or species of bacteria.
"It is essentially a genomic chess match where bacteria through horizontal gene transfer are always staying one step ahead."
Ehrlich says once they verify the gene transfer is common in chronic bacterial infections, he hopes it will lead to promising directions in treatment.