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Bacteria show surprising number of genetic paths to survival

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A boy with cystic fibrosis develops a chronic and potentially deadly Burkholderia dolosa infection in his lungs. Varieties of genetic mutations allow some strains of the bacteria to survive the dual assaults from his immune system and antibiotics, while others perish. Eventually, the strongest mutant dominates the B. dolosa colony. Right?

Maybe not, say the authors of a new study. Examining sputum samples from infected patients, they found that dozens of different kinds of B. dolosa may coexist in that boy's lungs. Instead of a majority genome representing the "best" way to survive in their combative environment, groups of B. dolosa exhibit different genetic variations that have helped them adapt in different ways.

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