Pathogen Mechanisms – Part III

Pathogens continued from Part 2. . .

Fecal Bacteria found on soda fountains
Fecal Bacteria found on soda fountains

Do you think soda tastes best from a fountain? A team of microbiologists from Hollins University have found that extra flavor might just be coliform, a fecal bacteria. 48% of the sodas they tested from soda fountains had the bacteria. Even better news, the study also found that most of the bacteria were resistant to antibiotics. From the abstract: “…Coliform bacteria was detected in 48% of the beverages and 20% had a heterotrophic plate count greater than 500 cfu/ml. […] More than 11% of the beverages analyzed contained Escherichia coli [E. Coli] and over 17% contained Chryseobacterium meningosepticum. Other opportunistic pathogenic microorganisms isolated from the beverages included species of Klebsiella, Staphylococcus, Stenotrophomonas, Candida, and Serratia. Most of the identified bacteria showed resistance to one or more of the 11 antibiotics tested.

Pathogen Mechanisms: Part III

Pathogen microorganisms have various strategies to establish an infection in a host. Some pathogen microorganisms recognize molecules on the surface of the host cell, and use these as receptors. The binding of bacteria or viruses to receptors brings the microorganism in close contact with the host surface.

The nature of the interaction between the host receptor molecule and the attachment molecule on the surface of the bacteria, virus, or protozoan has in some cases been defined, even to the genetic level. The use of recombinant DNA technology—where a target section of genetic material is removed from one organism and inserted into a certain region of the genetic material of another organism, in a way that does not affect the expression of the gene—allows the genetic manipulation of a microorganism so as to enhance its ability to cause an infection.

Alternatively, inserting a gene that codes for a toxin into a bacterium that is a normal inhabitant of an environment like the intestinal tract could produce a formidable pathogen. This altered bacteria would readily associate with host cells, but would also carry the toxin.

Viruses almost always damage the host cells. Because viruses cannot reproduce on their own, they rely on the replication mechanism of the host cell to make more copies of themselves (i.e., they are obligate pathogens). Then, the new viral particles will exit the cell and search for another cell to infect. This exit is often very physically damaging to the host cell. Thus, viral infections can be detrimental because of the loss of function of host cells.

Some viral pathogens are capable of causing a disease long after they have infected a host. This delayed response occurs because the viral genetic material becomes incorporated into the genetic material of the host. Thereafter, the viral genetic material is replicated along with that of the host, using the replication enzymes and other machinery of the host. But, in response to a number of signals, the viral material can be excised from the host material and form the template for the manufacture and assembly of new virus particles.

A prominent example of such a virus is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which is acknowledged to be the cause of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.

Because viruses must infect other cells in order to replicate, they have developed means of escaping (at least for a time) the defensive responses of the host. This efficiency of attack has not escaped the attention of molecular biologists bent on the malicious use of viruses. By inserting gene coding for a toxic compound into a viral genome, particularly into the genome of an infectious virus (i.e., influenza or cold viruses) the virus becomes a bioweapon. For example, scientists in the former Soviet Union attempted to construct an influenza virus that contained the gene coding for cobra toxin.

Pathogen Mechanism Books:

Fields, Bernard N., Peter M. Howley, and Diane E. Griffin, eds. Virology. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2001.

Shnayerson, Michael, and Mark J. Plotkin. The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise of Drug Resistant Bacteria. New York: Little Brown & Company, 2002.

Smith, H., C. J. Dornan, G. Dougan, et al., eds. The Activities of Bacterial Pathogens In Vivo. River Edge, NJ: World Scientific, 2001.

Electronic Lists:

Wiki lists of bacteria, virus, fungi, amoeba, prions, parasites and protozoal infestations.

List of Pathogenic Infection

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