Scientists from Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology have used the power of new genomic technology to discover that particular microbes that commonly infect the eye have special, previously unknown properties. These properties are predicted to allow the bacterium --Streptococcus pneumoniae -- to specifically stick to the surface of the eye, grow, and cause damage and inflammation. Researchers are now using this information to develop new ways to treat and prevent infections with this bacterium, which is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Their findings were published in the current issue of Nature Communications in an article entitled, “"Unencapsulated Streptococcus pneumoniae from Conjunctivitis Encode Variant Traits and Belong to a Distinct Phylogenetic Cluster." S. pneumoniae is a leading cause of infection and is responsible for diseases ranging from infection of the lungs, pneumonia, to infection of the brain, to infection of the surface of the eye, known as conjunctivitis. Although infection of the eye can usually be safely treated, S. pneumoniae infection is a leading cause of illness and death worldwide. According to Massachusetts Eye and Ear researcher Dr. Michael S. Gilmore, Sir William Osler Professor of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School, an effective vaccine is available that helps prevent many of the most severe types of infection. "I believe it is especially important for children and the elderly to be vaccinated. The vaccine causes the body to react to a slimy coating on the bacterial surface called a "capsule." The capsule allows S. pneumoniae to escape from white blood cells that try to eliminate it, and S. pneumoniae goes on to cause lung and other infections." However, the strains of S.
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