Aballay believes that this model opens news areas of research for better understanding the relationship between pathogens and host responses.
"While many virulence factors have been identified, the mechanisms by which they contribute to bacterial pathogenesis remain unknown," he said. "But with the identification of the targeted pathways in the host, we should be able to figure out how virulence factors influence the innate immune response."
Aballay said that the C elegans system could be an effective living model for testing or screening new compounds or drugs for treating Salmonella in humans. However, he added, much additional research in other living models is necessary before these new insights can be applied to human disease.
Using the C elegans model, Aballay and his colleagues are now conducting genetic screens to find genetic variants called polymorphisms in the host that appear to confer either resistance or susceptibility to Salmonella. The researchers expect that these polymorphisms would also play a role in human disease.
Other members of the research team were Duke's Jennifer Tenor, as well as Beth McCormick, Ph.D., and Frederick Ausubel, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School, Boston.