Northerners are still stunned by the discovery that Norwegians died in the island of Rorke’s Drift in 1906. The mass case was attributed to Campylobacter, a bacteria that can result in severe stomach cramps and diarrhea. But due to lack of information on the bacteria—and information is scarce—scientists have been investigating and experimenting on new organisms and approaches to stopping the species. One of those approaches involves a method known as recoded genetics—the research of which is revealed in Håkan Bjerg’s book and podcast, Genetic Dwarfs: The Origin of a Deadly Superbug.
The recoded genome approach has worked on Campylobacter, the study of which was part of Bjerg’s doctoral dissertation at Drexel University in Philadelphia. His work revealed many unknowns, from the bugs’ genetic structure and blood and respiration patterns to, in his words, the “the complex ecology of Rorke’s Drift in the context of resource competition, colonial interaction, and military operations.”
But Bjerg is cautious about promoting the recoded-genetics research for the safety of the people he studied. The spores from Campylobacter are not easy to identify and contain, with some showing traces of the bacteria as far as 1,300 miles away from where they originated, he told The New York Times. One method that scientists have recommended is the use of nuclear diagnostic tools. Any organism containing DNA that is linked to Campylobacter is suspected to be the agent behind the outbreak.
Unfortunately, Campylobacter may be seeping into other microbes. A report by Oxford University, which examined Campylobacter bacteria from a pig in a Chinese meat market, found that almost all the particles turned out to have DNA from Campylobacter.
“The thing about Campylobacter is it’s one of those germs that you want to know what’s lurking in the vast majority of the rest of the microbes in the world,” said Brian W. Kennedy, a microbiologist at the University of California, Davis. He added, “we know a lot about Campylobacter—we just didn’t know why it was everywhere.”
Read the full story at The Guardian.
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