Scientists isolate gene structure of possible bioweapon

Scientists at the University of Exeter have used a new screening process to isolate the virulent parts of the gene structure of the Burkholderia pseudomallei pathogenic bacteria and plan to screen other pathogens in the future.

The process gives the researchers the opportunity to run thousands of tests simultaneously to determine which of the bacteria's genes are the most harmful to the human immune system, Med India reports. The process may allow future researchers to study pathogens such as those used in bioterrorism to develop vaccines for them.

Burkholderia is a bacterial pathogen that can infect someone through a cut or a graze, bypassing the typical features of the immune system that consumes invading bacteria. The infection may then resist being eaten and spread to the rest of the body in a particularly nasty infection known as meliodosis.

The disease is widespread in Northern Australia and Southeast Asia. Lethal infection may lead to a mortality rate of up to 50 percent.

"We used library-clones which each contain a genetic region of Burkholderia, and then studied each one's ability to kill immune cells to find what are known as virulence factors – basically the parts which allow it to override the immune system," Dr. Andrea Dowling of the Center for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter University's Cornwall Campus, said, according to Med India. "Using the screen, we established the potential locations of that virulence factor much quicker than using normal methods."