Salmonella food poisoning linked to DNA damage

To put it lightly, food poisoning from Salmonella is an uncomfortable experience. After a few days, however, most people regain their strength and recover fully. At least that’s how it used to be. Now, food scientists at Cornell University have discovered that some Salmonella serotypes — variations of the bacterial species — can have a lasting effect and actually damage your DNA.

Published in the journal mBio, researchers Rachel Miller and Martin Wiedmann, examined multiple serotypes of Salmonella that encode for cytolethal distending toxin, or S-CDT, a virulence component for serotype Typhi – the cause of typhoid fever.

As it happens, the Salmonella serotypes known as Javiana, Montevideo, Oranienburg and Mississippi – common culprits in the foodborne illness world – also carry the genetic material that encodes S-CDT, the researchers found.

In human cells grown in the lab, Salmonella strains with S-CDT were also found to lead to hallmark signatures that indicate the presence of DNA damage. The ability to cause DNA damage may contribute to long-term disease consequences.

“Think about possible DNA damage this way: We apply sunscreen to keep the sun from damaging our skin. If you don’t apply sunscreen, you can get a sunburn – and possibly develop skin problems later in life,” Miller explained in a recent article.

“While not the sun, Salmonella bacteria may work in a similar way. The more you expose your body’s cells to DNA damage, the more DNA damage that needs to be repaired, and there may one day be a chance that the DNA damage is not correctly repaired. We don’t really know right now the true permanent damage from these Salmonella infections,” she said.

However, Wiedmann said that damaged DNA from Salmonella infection may result in a person suffering from long-term health consequences even after the infection subsides. An example of such long-term health impact is having longer bouts with foodborne illnesses.

According to the CDC, while there’s over 2,500 serotypes of Salmonella, fewer than 100 actually cause the majority of foodborne illnesses. But that’s not to be taken lightly, as Salmonella causes about 1.2 million non-typhoidal Salmonella illnesses and about 450 deaths annually in the U.S. alone.

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