Genetics news & views from students enrolled in BIOL 2110 at Stockton University.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Gene alteration makes an ordinary stomach bug a dangerous virus
Tourists from the Yosemite National Park were diagnosed with a virus assumed to be the Black Plague. The plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, has spread to multiple Western Americans through flea transmission. Recent findings suggest that the Y. pestis became lethal after altering the gene pla. The gene pla is originally responsible for preventing blood clots. Any bacterium with pla would be capable of preventing the body from forming clots during an injury and prevent further bleeding. The gene alteration made pla more virulent, so it could spread more easily with human contact or flea transmission. With the gene alteration in pla, Y. pestis can cause pneumonia at an alarming rate, and kill any person who hasn't receive proper antibiotics.
Oriental rat flea with Y. pestis in its intestinal tract
With findings in how the plague became more dangerous, scientists began to how the plague came to occur. They found that the plague existed for over 20 million years after finding an amber encased flea carrying an ancestor bacterium of Y. pestis. Other findings revealed that Y. pestis had an evolutionary precursor pathogen strain called Y. pseudotuberculosis, which at worst could cause slight diarrhea. After an experiment with the two pathogens, it was shown that the Y. pseudotuberculosis was poisonous to fleas, which made it impossible to carry to other organisms. On the other hand, the Y. pestis was not poisonous to fleas, so that could easily carried to other living organisms, such as humans. This made Y. pestis a more effective virus strain. Further research is being performed, but all that is known now is that Y. pestis has become a dangerous strain because of only one small gene alteration.