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Top Story

Genomic study of 412 anthrax strains provides new virulence clues

By analyzing genomic sequences from more than 400 strains of the bacterium that causes anthrax, researchers have provided the first evidence that the severity -- technically known as virulence -- of specific strains may be related to the number of copies of certain plasmids they carry. Plasmids are genetic structures of the cell that can reproduce independently, and are responsible for producing the anthrax toxin and other virulence factors. The research found that bacteria strains collected from humans and animals tended to have more copies of the virulence plasmids than those collected from environmental sources. The research used Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's collection of Bacillus anthracis strains gathered from around the world beginning in the 1950s. A next step would be to investigate further the possible correlation between copy number and virulence in animal studies. The researchers hope to gain a better understanding of virulence and other factors in anthrax and other organisms that have implications for public health.

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