Salmonella’s sweet tooth may prove its undoing

If you think your sweet tooth is a problem, spare a thought for the poor Salmonella bacterium. OK, maybe sympathy is a lot to ask, but scientists have discovered something that may prove to be the germ’s undoing: Salmonella feeds on glucose during the infection process.

Brushing and flossing won't help Salmonella.

Brushing and flossing won't help Salmonella.

Scientists at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, England discovered that glucose is the sugar from which Salmonella derives most of its chemical energy. Most living cells derive their energy from glucose, a simple sugar also known as dextrose.

“The scientists focused on glycolysis, the process by which sugars are broken down to create chemical energy,” reported the IFR in a news release announcing the discovery. “They constructed Salmonella mutants unable to transport glucose into the immune cells they occupy and unable to use glucose as food. These mutant strains lost their ability to replicate within immune cells, rendering them harmless.”

Harmless, but potentially useful. The mutant genes still kick start the body’s immune response but now unable to replicate, the immune cells are potentially able to defeat the invader. It’s possible, the IFR scientists believe, that the now harmless Salmonella bacteria could be used to develop vaccines against other disease-causing bacteria. Researchers plan to begin the next stage of testing on mice.

More than 40,000 people in the United States are reported infected with Salmonella each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The actual number of people who are infected but fail to recognize the symptoms, or who simply don’t report their illness, may be 30 times as high. Salmonella grabbed national headlines this past year when it was revealed that a Georgia food processor – Peanut Corporation of America – knowingly distributed peanuts and peanut paste contaminated with Salmonella to its customers around the United States. More than 3,900 products ranging from peanut butter and ice cream to trail mix and frozen entrees were recalled, resulting in millions of dollars in losses to businesses throughout the country.

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