[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]
For years, scientists and physicians have been up in arms about the rise in antibiotic resistance. Seems that many bacteria, devious buggers that they are, are able to share genetic information—including, say, the instructions for destroying penicillin. Well, if that’s not bad enough, scientists from the N.Y.U. School of Medicine have found that some bacteria can use viruses to help them pass along the recipe for their favorite toxin, results published in the journal Science.
Like humans, bacteria are also prone to infection by viruses. And most of these viruses—called bacteriophage, or phage for short—make their bacterial victims sick. Or even dead. But in the laboratory, the scientists discovered that Staphylococcus aureus, the bug that causes toxic shock syndrome among other things, can actually co-opt phage, using them to shuttle the gene for toxic-shock toxin to another bacteria, in this case Listeria. That’s doubly nasty, because Listeria on its own causes food poisoning, so if it added toxic shock to its repertoire, well, that would be one seriously bad bug. Whether Staph aureus can pull off this stunt outside the lab’s not clear. But in this particular battle, ya gotta hope the viruses come out on top.