Basic research is helping scientists to better understand how microbes spread by contaminated food or water cause disease in humans.
NIAID-supported researchers are studying the bacterial genes that help pathogens (germs) establish themselves in the human body and cause disease. For example, scientists have identified genes that appear to be involved in signaling certain immune system cells to cause inflammation and may contribute to the development of diarrhea. The genetic characteristics of outbreak strains are also being investigated.
Recently, a NIAID-funded study on the gut inflammation caused by Salmonella typhimurium was named the top paper of 2010 by The Scientist Faculty of 1000. This study found that the infecting bacterium benefits from the host’s immune response, gaining energy from it. Other infectious bacteria may soon be found to behave the same way.
Other NIAID-sponsored research focuses on methods by which the organism grows and interacts in cells. Scientists have discovered that some intestinal bacteria recognize when they are in a human and respond by activating a particular set of powerful genes that enable the organism to live in the body and cause disease. Future studies will define new ways to intervene, whether by prevention or treatment, in the disease process.
Scientists have determined the complete genome (genetic blueprint) sequences for Salmonella typhi, Salmonella typhimurium, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Shigella flexneri, Yersinia enterocolitica,and Campylobacter jejuni. Sequencing studies are underway for other harmful strains of these bacteria. Scientists hope this new information will speed the discovery of new targets for treatments and vaccines against foodborne pathogens.
NIAID is also supporting the Systems Biology for EnteroPathogens program, established to deepen researchers’ fundamental understanding of the complex processes of microbes and their interactions with the host. The systems approach involves the use of advanced technologies to analyze, identify, quantify, model, and ultimately predict the overall molecular processes involved in the pathogenesis of Salmonella.
NIAID has awarded four grants to establish the Enteric Research Investigational Network (ERIN), which is designed to bridge gaps between basic and clinical research on bacteria and viruses that gain access to the host via the gastrointestinal tract to cause a variety of diseases.
Last Updated November 17, 2011