Superman has kryptonite, Samson has his gorgeous long locks, and Salmonella has… its restrictive diet? According to a new study, Salmonella’s reliance on a single food source may prove to be the one thing to destroy the powerful bacteria.
Salmonella thrives off fructose-asparagine, a nutrient composed of sugar and amino acids stuck together, according to a recent press release. According to Brian Ahmer, a lead author of a recent study, if Salmonella isn’t able to get this nutrient then it will be “in really bad shape.” Ahmer’s study suggests that blocking the activation of one of five genes that transport this nutrient to Salmonella will succeed in being a successful strategy in fighting the infections.
When it comes to Salmonella infections, which occur in an average of 42,000 Americans every year, antibiotics are not recommended. Along with killing the Salmonella, the drugs also kill the good antibiotics. Researchers believing that making the Salmonella ineffective rather than killing them may be a solution to this problem. According to the press release, without food, starving Salmonella becomes 1,000 times less equipped to sustain disease.
Salmonella’s food choice was discovered by accident. "It has never been discovered to be a nutrient for any organism," Ahmer explained. At first the researchers were working on figuring out what genes Salmonella needed to stay alive during the time when its presence caused symptoms of infection in the gut. Researchers were able to uncover these genes through a bit of guesswork. Eventually, however, the team realized that Salmonella genes resembled those found in other bacteria, such as E.coli.
After conducting numerous experiments on mice, the team came to one final discovery: Without access to fructose-asparagine, Salmonella in the inflamed gut significantly dropped in their fitness levels. That was one of the big surprises: that there is only one nutrient source that is so important to Salmonella. "For most bacteria, if we get rid of one nutrient acquisition system, they continue to grow on other nutrients," Ahmer explained in the press release. Although the Salmonella may take in hundreds of different nutrients while in the human gut, it’s the fructose-asparagine that determines the microorganism’s fitness level.
This nutrient has long been over-looked by researchers as a drug target because it was previously viewed as a “pointless pursuit,” Ahmer said. Now researchers are seriously changing their outlook on nutrient transports and believe they may hold the key to a promising drug for Salmonella infections.