A new study suggests that bacteria may be able to jump between host species far more easily than was previously thought. Researchers have discovered that a single genetic mutation in a strain of bacteria infectious to humans enables it to jump species to also become infectious to rabbits. The discovery has major implications for how we assess the risk of bacterial diseases that can pass between humans and animals. It is well known that relatively few mutations are required to support the transmission of viruses, such as influenza, from one species to another. Until now, it was thought that the process was likely to be far more complicated for bacteria. The new study was published online on February 16, 2015 in Nature Genetics. The title of the article was “A Single Natural Nucleotide Mutation Alters Bacterial Pathogen Host Tropism.” Scientists at the Universities of CEU Cardenal Herrera (Spain), and of Glasgow (UK), and of Edinburgh (UK) studied a strain of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus ST121, which is responsible for widespread epidemics of disease in the global rabbit farming industry. The team looked at the genetic make-up of S. aureus ST121 to work out where the strain originated and the changes that occurred that enabled it to infect rabbits. The scientists found that S. aureus ST121 most likely evolved through a host jump from humans to rabbits approximately 40 years ago, with a genetic mutation at a single site in the bacterial DNA code being the cause for this.
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