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Jekyll and Hyde bacteria aids or kills, depending on chance

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Living in the guts of worms are seemingly innocuous bacteria that contribute to their survival. With a flip of a switch, however, these same bacteria transform from harmless microbes into deadly insecticides.

In the current issue of Science, Michigan State University researchers led a study that revealed how a bacteria flips a DNA switch to go from an upstanding community member in the gut microbiome to deadly killer in insect blood.

Todd Ciche, assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, has seen variants like this emerge sometimes by chance resulting in drastically different properties, such as being lethal to the host or existing in a state of mutual harmony. Even though human guts are more complex and these interactions are harder to detect, the revelation certainly offers new insight that could lead to medical breakthroughs, he said.

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