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Changes to the environment make pathogens worse

By Tim Sandle     Jan 21, 2016 in Science
Changes to the environment can not only lead to an increase in numbers of pathogens and also facilitate the transmission of disease. To add to this, a new report suggests the virulence of pathogens can be altered through environmental change.
This different take on environmental changes puts forward the idea that pathogen virulence can alter through physiological changes to bacteria. This concept comes from the Academy of Finland´s Centre of Excellence in Biological Interactions.
In a study, scientists looked at short-term exposure to different environment factors to a bacterium called Serratia marcescens. The organism is pathogenic to the Galleria mellonella moth. The organism is of wider importance, since S. marcescens poses a risk to immunocompromised people.
The study showed, unsurprisingly, the severity of the infection most strongly related to bacterial dose. However, it was also found that virulence was greater when the bacterium had inhabited certain environmental conditions up to 48 hours prior to infection of the moths. This indicated the type of nutrients the bacterium is exposed to prior to infection affected the virulence factor.
Most notably, there was a difference as to whether the bacterium has drawn nutrients from meat compared with plant matter. This seemed to affect particular genes associated with pathogenicity.
The research is published in the journal Biology Letters. The research paper is titled “Different food sources elicit fast changes to bacterial virulence.”
In related news, a report, written in associated with the Wellcome Trust (titled “Commission on Creating a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future”), argues that human society is ill-prepared for future pandemics and more spending is required to develop infrastructure and medical training.
The report puts forward the case for $60 billion to spent annually on preparing for a major disease outbreak, with the bulk of the financing orientated towards less developed nations.
Telling, given the criticisms leveled against the United Nations agency over the response to Ebola, the report calls for a permanent World Health Organization Center for Health Emergency Preparedness and Response. This new body would “lead and co-ordinate defences and action against pandemic threats.”
More about Environmental change, Pathogens, virulence, Meat
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