Horse study offers new insights on human disease
Research in horses has managed to identify new genes that are associated with Streptococcus pyogenes, an important cause of human disease.
Streptococcus pyogenes are responsible for 600 million cases of pharyngitis in humans every year, and infections caused by the bug have seen a dramatic rise around the world over the past 20 years.
The bacteria is also to blame for a further 100 million cases of invasive disease, such as scarlet fever, acute rheumatic fever and necrotising fasciitis.
Despite the cost to human health, the Animal Health Trust (AHT) said little is known about which of the 1,800 genes are required for it to infect people and persist in the throat.
AHT scientists were working on Streptococcus equi, which causes strangles in horses and is closely related to Streptococcus pyogenes. They developed a new technique that allows the importance of every gene in the bug to be tested at once, rather than one at a time.
The technique was transferred to the lab at Houston Methodist Research Institute, where it was also proved effective in the study of Streptococcus pyogenes. The team were able to identify 92 genes that were required for the bacteria to grow in human saliva.
Dr James Musser, a professor at the institute, said this has the potential to accelerate research into this important human pathogen.
In follow-on tests, the team were able to immediately confirm that six of these new genes did affect growth in human saliva, meaning there is potential for novel therapeutics and vaccines.
Dr Andrew Waller, head of bacteriology at AHT, added: “We are delighted that a technique developed at the AHT to learn more about Streptococcus equi and strangles in horses has provided new results that could benefit people too.
“We have learnt a huge amount about our bug through following the work being done on human diseases, and it is great to be able to give something back in return. This study highlights the similarities of animal and human pathogens.
“We hope that our technique will also prove useful for the study and prevention of other diseases, regardless of the animal they affect.”