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Uncovering the secrets of tularemia, 'rabbit fever'

Tularemia is endemic in the northeastern United States, and is considered to be a risk to biosecurity -- much like anthrax or smallpox -- because it has already been weaponized in various regions of the world.

At the 58th Annual Biophysical Society Meeting, which started Saturday and continues through Wednesday in San Francisco, Geoffrey Feld, a postdoctoral researcher in LLNL's Physical & Life Sciences Directorate, has described his work to uncover the secrets of the bacterium Francisella tularensis, which causes tularemia, also known as "rabbit fever."

"Despite its importance for both public health and biodefense, F. tularensis pathogenesis isn't entirely understood, nor do we fully understand how the organism persists in the environment," Feld explained.

Previous efforts, funded by both the National Institutes of Health and LLNL, demonstrated that amoebae may serve as a potential reservoir for the bacteria in nature. "Specifically, we demonstrated that amoebae exposed to fully virulent F. tularensis rapidly form cysts -- dormant, metabolically inactive cells -- that allow the amoebae to survive unfavorable conditions," said Amy Rasley, the research team leader.

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