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Grit Your Teeth: Toothbrush Holder Yields New, Drug-Resistant Germ (Op-Ed)

Robert Donofrio is director of NSF International's Applied Research Center. He contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Recently, my colleagues and I at NSF International's Applied Research Center (ARC) discovered a new bacterium, Klebsiella michiganensis, lurking on a toothbrush holder. This unique coliform bacterium is a member of the same family as E. coli, a species typically found in human intestines and fecal matter. Some bacteria in the genus Klebsiella are pathogenic and drug-resistant, including K. pneumonia, which can cause pneumonia and respiratory tract and urinary tract infections.

K. michiganensis has a capsule structure with a slimy surface that helps it attach to mucus membranes and evade immune system responses, which may lead to infection because the bacterium is difficult to break down. Sticky bacteria like K. michiganensis also attract other bacteria that join together in communities to build biofilms, which are a common cause of persistent infections.

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