"We've discovered, through genetics, a factor that is important in the normal biology of the organism out in the environment and it is also one of the very initial factors for cholera colonization in the intestine," said Dr. Ronald Taylor, professor of microbiology and immunology at DMS who led the research. "Now that we know what the bacterium attaches to in the intestine, we can find ways to block that initial contact."
Cholera and the bacterium that causes it is found in contaminated drinking water and food, often in underdeveloped countries and refugee camps. Once the disease takes hold, it causes diarrhea, vomiting, severe dehydration and can result in death if treatment is not promptly given. In 2001 alone, 28 countries reported over 40 outbreaks of cholera to the World Health Organization, resulting in the deaths of thousands.
Large outbreaks are often traced back to contaminated water supplies that are commonly associated with algal or zooplankton blooms. For the V. cholerae bacterium to infect someone with cholera, the bacterium often binds to plankton in the aquatic environment before it arrives at the human intestine via contaminated food and water sources. V. cholerae attaches to the outer surface of plankton, made up of a carbonate substance called chitin. Once attached to the plankton's chitin, the bacterium thrives on the carbon and multiplies. Humans do not have chitin in the surface of intestinal cells, where the bacterium takes hold, a
Contact: Andrew Nordhoff
Dartmouth Medical School