60-Second Science

Arctic Genes Make Vaccines That Can't Stand Heat

Pathogens with added genes from Arctic bacteria could serve as vaccines that elicit an immune response before getting cooked in our warm bodies. Cynthia Graber reports

Some bacteria have adapted to super-cold environments for millions of years. And scientists have isolated some of the essential genes that allow bacteria to tolerate their harsh living conditions—because these same genes might help in the creation of new vaccines. The investigators published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Barry Duplantis et al.,]

Researchers from the University of Victoria in British Columbia [and the NIH Laboratory of Intracellular Parasites] isolated temperature-sensitive genes from some bacteria that thrive in the frigid Arctic. They inserted nine of these cold-loving genes into a bacterial pathogen called Francisella tularensis. At about room temperature, the cells propagated. But when they had to cope with warmth equivalent to the core body temps of mammals, the bacteria died.

So the scientists injected these engineered pathogens into rats and mice at cool parts of the body, such as the fleshy regions of the ear and the base of the tail. The bacteria survived near the skin, but perished prior to reaching the internal organs. And before they expired, the bacteria generated a protective immune response in the animals. The scientists hope to use this tool to create live vaccines that will confer immunity—before they die from our too warm welcome.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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