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How Cells Distinguish Between Disease-Causing and Innocuous Invaders

The specific mechanisms by which humans and other animals are able to discriminate between disease-causing microbes and innocuous ones in order to rapidly respond to infections have long been a mystery to scientists. But a study conducted on roundworms by biologists at UC San Diego has uncovered some important clues to finally answering that question.

In a paper published in this week's early online issue of the journal Cell Host & Microbe, the researchers discovered that intestinal cells in the roundworm C. elegans, which are similar in structure to those in humans, internalize bacterial toxins that inactivate several host processes. This then triggers an immune response, which results in the body mounting an immediate attack against the disease-causing microbes.

"The human intestine is teeming with trillions of bacteria, most of which are innocuous, or even beneficial," said Emily Troemel, an assistant professor of biology at UC San Diego who headed the study. "However, sometimes microbes cause disease, such as occurs in food poisoning."
 
 

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