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How Salmonella forms evil twins to evade the body's defenses

An unusual regulatory mechanism that controls the swimmer/non-swimmer option in genetically identical Salmonella also impacts the bacteria's ability to cause infection.

University of Washington scientists reported the discovery this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As Salmonella divides into genetically identical clones, either of the two forms of the bacteria can emerge. Some individuals sport flagella – thin, whip-like projections that propel the bacterium. Others do not.

"In an unpredictable world," said Dr. Brad Cookson, professor of microbiology and laboratory medicine, and division head of Clinical Microbiology at the UW, "Salmonella have evolved to hedge their bets." Each guise has its own advantages and drawbacks in invading a host and evading defenses, depending on the situation.

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