60-Second Science

Salmonella's Favorite Food Could Be Its Achilles' Heel

Salmonella's primary fuel source is the molecule fructose-asparagine. Starving it of that fuel in an infected person could kill it without harming beneficial gut bacteria. Karen Hopkin reports 


Summer’s here and with it come picnics, barbecues and of course salmonella. The germ is notorious for contaminating a variety of favorite warm-weather foods. But the bacteria’s palate is more limited than ours. Once salmonella makes its way into your system, it relies on a single unusual nutrient to survive. That’s according to a study in the journal PLoS Pathogens. [Mohamed M. Ali et al, Fructose-Asparagine Is a Primary Nutrient during Growth of Salmonella in the Inflamed Intestine]

Most people tough it out when they get food poisoning from salmonella. That’s because treatment with antibiotics would eliminate the infection, but also get rid of the gut bacteria that promote good health.
To figure out how to target salmonella specifically, researchers screened for genes vital for the microbe’s survival during the active phase of infection. And they identified a cluster of five genes that work together to allow the bacteria to digest a molecule called fructose-asparagine. No other organisms are known to use this chemical for fuel, so starving salmonella of it could be a new strategy for fighting this foodborne bug while leaving desirable intestinal inhabitants unharmed.
Next, the researchers plan to see which foods contain large amounts of salmonella’s go-to snack. But please, don’t send unsolicited samples of Aunt Agnes’s egg salad.
—Karen Hopkin
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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