Using sophisticated techniques, the team has mapped the entire genome of the elusive 19th century bacterium. The findings are significant because, until now, researchers had not identified the early strains of cholera, a water-borne pathogen. The discovery significantly improves understanding of the pathogen’s origin and creates hope for better treatment and possible prevention.
A preserved intestine from a male victim of cholera used to extract tiny DNA fragments.
Researchers have now confirmed the first of two types of cholera, known as classical, was likely responsible for five of the seven devastating outbreaks in the 1800s, all of which most likely originated in waters of the Bay of Bengal.
That strain of cholera had remained a mystery because researchers were unable to examine samples from early victims. The pathogen thrives in the intestines, never reaching teeth or bones, so remnants of its DNA do not exist in skeletal remains. Despite many known cholera burials, access to historical cholera DNA had seemed impossible since it can only be found in soft-tissue remains.
But graduate student Alison Devault and evolutionary geneticists Hendrik Poinar, Brian Golding and Eddie Holmes—working with a team of other scientists—learned that a remarkable collection of tissue specimens was housed at a medical history museum. The Mütter Museum was established by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1858, after the city itself was devastated by cholera earlier in the century.
Researchers carefully sampled a preserved intestine from a male victim of the 1849 pandemic and extracted information from tiny DNA fragments to reconstruct the Vibrio cholera genome.
The results, currently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, could lead to a better understanding of cholera and its modern-day strain known as El Tor, which replaced the classical strain in the 1960s for unknown reasons and is responsible for recent epidemics, including the devastating post-earthquake outbreak in Haiti.
“Understanding the evolution of an infectious disease has tremendous potential for understanding its epidemiology, how it changes over time, and what events play a role in its jump into humans,” explains Poinar, associate professor and director of the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre and an investigator with the Michael G. DeGroote Institute of Infectious Disease Research, also at McMaster University.
“We need to understand the selective pressures on the pathogen which in turn is driving its evolution, its virulence and hopefully use that information to develop better treatments,” he says. Using a sophisticated technique to extract, purify and enrich fragments of the pathogen’s DNA, the team collected precious genomic data, which answered many unresolved questions.
The researchers identified “novel genomic islands”, or genome regions that don’t occur in current strains. In addition, a well-known genic region involved in toxicity of the pathogen (a sequence called “CTX”) occurs more times in the ancient strain than in its modern descendants.
This may mean that this strain was more virulent, say researchers, but further testing will be needed.
Regarding the origins, the team’s calculations show that the classical strain and El Tor co-existed in humans and estuaries for many centuries, potentially thousands of years prior to the 19th century pandemics, and emerged as a full-blown infection in humans in the early 1800’s.
The ancestor of both the classical and El Tor strain likely circulated together in the waters of the Bay of Bengal for several thousand years before emerging in humans during what is known as the first epidemiological transition, or a time of great agricultural revolution and human settlement.
The World Health Organization estimates there are three to five million new cholera cases every year. Of those, 100,000 to 120,000 people typically die from the disease. But with access to historical collections and samples, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of how pandemics arise, spread and ultimately how they might be better controlled or stopped.
“The genomes of ancestral pathogens that have descendants today reside in these archival medical collections all over the world,” says Poinar. “We have access to hundreds of thousands of ancient specimens, which hold tremendous potential to determine the origins of past epidemics.” Thus these collections represent a treasure trove and should be carefully preserved and maintained.
The research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, an NHMRC Australia Fellowship and an Ontario Graduate Scholarship.
Attention Editors: A full suite of multimedia material, including high def footage, high res photos and graphics is available at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/wbs6oh726zre5og/DJmZ_ykSzU
Michelle Donovan | Newswise
University of California Scientists Create Malaria-Blocking Mosquitoes
30.11.2015 | University of California, Irvine
ARTORG and Inselspital develop artificial pancreas
26.11.2015 | Universitätsspital Bern
Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular chain of events that enables the cells to make “sounds” on their own, essentially “practicing” their ability to process sounds in the world around them.
The researchers, who describe their experiments in the Dec. 3 edition of the journal Cell, show how hair cells in the inner ear can be activated in the absence...
Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.
Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...
Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.
In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...
In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.
Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...
30.11.2015 | Event News
25.11.2015 | Event News
17.11.2015 | Event News
30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News
30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News
30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News