When foodborne illness strikes, waiting for it to pass has historically been pretty much all you can do. However, that could now be changing as scientists have recently have discovered just how Campylobacter bacteria causes infection, providing the possibility to create antimicrobial drugs to specifically target certain foodborne pathogens.
An Australian study was recently published in the journal Nature Communications and focuses on particularly virulent strains of Campylobacter jejuni and its ability to cause gastroenteritis in humans. The team’s research showed that the ability of bacteria to cause disease stems from whether bacterial cells are able to move toward target host cells, and that movement depends on specialized structures on the cells, known as “sensory receptors,” that can sense chemicals in their environment.
According to an article, tests on chickens found that disabling just one sensor of the bacteria reduced the ability of Campylobacter to colonize and infect them.
“This is a very important finding as sensory structures are very specific to each bacteria and offer high-target specificity for design of new antimicrobial compounds,” research leader Victoria Korolik, a microbiology professor at Griffith University, said in the article. “Essentially it should be possible to design an antimicrobial drug to target a specific pathogen that will not affect normal flora.”
Korolik added that targeting the sensory apparatus of these microbes could reduce the chances of developing antimicrobial resistance because the bacterial cell is not killed but instead has its ability to reach host cells and cause disease disabled.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Campylobacter bacteria are one of the most common causes of foodborne illness in the U.S. and is usually accompanied with stomach cramping, abdominal pain and diarrhea (sometimes bloody) that sticks around for a number of days. The CDC estimates more than 1.3 million people are affected by it every year.
The CDC states most cases of campylobacteriosis are associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry meat or from cross-contamination of other foods by these items. Outbreaks of Campylobacter have also been associated with unpasteurized dairy products, contaminated water and produce.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that Campylobacter bacteria cause more cases of diarrhea around the world than foodborne Salmonella and that, in developing countries, infections in children younger than two are especially common and sometimes fatal.
According to the WHO, the article states there are currently 17 known species and six subspecies of Campylobacter, with C. jejuni and C. coli being the most frequently reported in connection with human diseases.
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