Scientists studying Staphylococcus bacteria, including methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), have discovered a potent staph toxin responsible for disease severity. They also found the gene for the toxin traveling with a genetic component of Staphylococcus that controls resistance to antibiotics. The study, now online in PLoS Pathogens, shows for the first time that genetic factors that affect Staphylococcus virulence and drug resistance can be transferred from one strain to another in one exchange event.
One of the ways Staphylococcus bacteria become drug-resistant is through horizontal gene transfer, whereby resistance genes move from one bacterium to another. Staph bacteria also can exchange virulence genes using the same mechanism, but this was previously assumed to occur separately from the transfer of antibiotic resistance.
Scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a component of the National Institutes of Health, led the study. They collaborated with researchers at the University of Tubingen in Germany and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
"The discovery that bundled genes determine virulence and antimicrobial resistance suggests a new research focus for scientists trying to better prevent and treat serious staph infections," says Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., NIAID director.