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A Surprising Link Between Bacteria and Colon Cancer

Could bacteria be responsible for colon cancer? In papers published in the journal Genome Research, two research teams, working independently, describe a group of bacteria that are linked to higher rates of the disease.

Called Fusobacterium, this type of bacterium is very rarely found among the usual gut bugs, but it appears to flourish in colon cancer cells. "It was a huge surprise to me, because I didn't expect to find any one class of bacteria [linked to colon cancer]," says Matthew Meyerson, a pathologist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and senior author of one of the papers.

The two research groups used sophisticated ways of sequencing genes to identify the bugs found in the tumor tissues. In the past, scientists would take biopsies and then try to grow bacteria or viruses in the lab to see what they were, but that was a hit-or-miss endeavor, since different microbes require different conditions in order to flourish. In the new studies, researchers used genetic probes, which can distinguish human from non-human material, to separate out then identify the microbes.

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