Sugar found to boost lethal bacteria

Adelaide researchers find how a bacteria digests a sugar can be key to new treatments

The severity of a common and often lethal type of bacteria depends on its ability to process a type of sugar, research from the University of Adelaide reveals.

Streptococcus pneumoniae causes diseases of the lungs, blood, ear and brain, killing an estimated one million people every year. Moreover S. pneumoniae causes otitis media (infection of the middle ear), which devastates Aboriginal populations. It also rapidly develops resistance to antibiotics, making it challenging to treat.

The death toll of antibiotic resistant bacteria is predicted to rise to more than 10 million people by 2050.

Research performed by Vikrant Minhas has discovered that a strain of the bacteria that processes a sugar known as raffinose was responsible for causing deadly lung disease.

However, a closely related strain that was unable to utilise the sugar caused much less severe disease in the ear.

Using a mouse model, Vikrant and colleagues discovered that when the raffinose-regulating gene in the bacteria was swapped, the disease progressions also changed.

“Fundamental knowledge such as this, explaining how bacteria spread around the body, is crucial if we are to replace antibiotics with other types of life-saving treatments,” says Vikrant.

Vikrant Minhas, University of Adelaide

Further reading:

  • Capacity To Utilize Raffinose Dictates Pneumococcal Disease Phenotype mBio 2019 DOI: 10.1128/mBio.02596-18