Just-published research shows for the first time that Lyme Disease bacterium does not require iron to infect host

ATHENS, Ga.--New research from scientists at the University of Georgia, just published in the journal Science, demonstrates that Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease in humans, is the first pathogenic bacterium identified that does not need or use iron.

"All bacterial pathogens described to date have developed specialized systems to acquire iron from their hosts,"said microbiologist Frank Gherardini. "Current dogma states that to be successful in humans, bacteria must overcome strict iron limitations that the human body imparts on them. Although iron is abundant in humans, the amount of free iron is well below the levels required to support the growth of most bacteria. To our surprise, we found that B. burgdorferi doesn't even require iron. In fact, iron is extremely toxic to it."

Understanding how these bacteria are able to successfully colonize humans and cause disease will ultimately lead researchers to more effective ways to prevent and control the disorder.

Some 30 years ago, doctors were puzzled by a large number of arthritis cases in children who lived in and near Lyme, Conn. After exhaustive study, they discovered that the disorder, which has symptoms that vary in kind and severity, was caused by a bacterium transferred to humans from the bite of the deer tick, Ixoides scapularis. Since then, there have been major efforts to understand the bacterium and its life-cycle, and Gherardini's lab has been involved for a number of years, publishing many papers on the subject. Gherardini's graduate student James E. Posey was co-author on the paper published today in Science.

Borrelia burgdorferi is a spiral-shaped organism called a spirochete. Some scientists believe that Lyme disease came from Europe a century ago but was only recently detectable when it became more common. A resurgent deer population-along with mice, the reservoir host for the bacterium, coupled with increased outdoor activities by humans, has hel

Contact: Frank Gherardini!
University of Georgia

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