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Leprosy bacteria use 'biological alchemy'

Infectious bacteria have for the first time been caught performing "biological alchemy" to transform parts of a host body into those more suited to their purposes, by a team in Edinburgh.

The study, in the journal Cell, showed leprosy-causing bacteria turning nerves into stem cells and muscle.

The authors said the "clever and sophisticated" technique could further therapies and stem-cell research.

Experts described the discovery as "amazing" and "exciting".

Alchemists may have failed to morph base metals into gold, but a team at the University of Edinburgh has shown that bacteria can transform parts of the body into something more valuable to them.

It is a feat that scientists have already achieved in the laboratory. Skin cells have been transformed into flexible stem cells that can become any of the body's building blocks from heart muscle to brain cells.

One of the researchers, Prof Anura Rambukkana, said: "Our body's cells can be manipulated and why would a bacterium not take advantage of that?"

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