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How insects domesticate bacteria: Symbiotic microbes' origin discovered after man impales hand on branch

Two years ago, a 71-year-old Indiana man impaled his hand on a branch after cutting down a dead crab apple tree, causing an infection that led University of Utah scientists to discover a new bacterium and solve a mystery about how bacteria came to live inside insects.

Because the new bacterial strain is easy to grow in the laboratory and is related to Sodalis, a genus of bacteria that lives symbiotically inside insects' guts, it may be possible to genetically alter the new bacteria so they can block disease transmission by insects like tsetse flies and prevent crop damage by insect-borne viruses.

"If we can genetically modify a bacterium that could be put back into insects, it could be used as a way to combat diseases transmitted by those insects," says Adam Clayton, a University of Utah Ph.D. student in biology and a first author of a study unveiling the new bacterium and its genome or "genetic blueprint."

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