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Pneumonia drugs helped evolve a superbug

Sometimes natural selection gets a helping hand from humans. A new study tracing the genetic history of a nasty strain of pneumonia-causing bacteria shows that antibiotics and vaccines helped shape the microbe’s evolution.

In a technical tour de force, an international team of researchers deciphered the complete genetic blueprints of 240 samples of a strain of Streptococcus pneumoniae taken from sick people in 22 countries. The samples were isolated between 1984 and 2008, allowing researchers to see how the bacteria changed over time.

S. pneumoniae is a common cause of death, especially among young children. A recent estimate published in the Lancet, for example, showed the bacteria caused 14.5 million cases of serious disease in children aged 1 to 5 worldwide in 2000, killing about 826,000.

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