Daisy Bateman

Science: Marching Ever Onward

I was reading the news roundup in Nature today when I came across this little item, and I just had to share.

From the latest issue of Cellular Microbiology:

Scientists may have identified a step in the evolutionary path that produced the bubonic plague.

Bubonic plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is transmitted to humans by rat fleas. B. Joseph Hinnebusch of Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana, and his colleagues report that a related bacterium, Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, is toxic to fleas, causing diarrhoea.

They think this toxicity is due to a protein that acts in the flea gut. The researchers ruled out Tc toxins, a class of bacterial toxins with known insecticidal activity, as being to blame, leaving the identity of the protein unknown.

The group suggests that modification of the toxic protein may have enhanced flea-borne transmission and played a part in the genetic divergence of the two bacteria.

Clearly, this raises a couple of serious questions:

1. Fleas get diarrhea?
2. How can you tell?
3. Does that sound like the worst job in the world, or what?

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