Caused by a bacteria, anthrax is a life-threatening deadly disease. While rare, people can contract the disease if they come into contact with infected animals, people or contaminated animal products. But anthrax is only one species in a group of bacteria, and now researchers have identified a brand new pathogen causing an anthrax-like disease in Central Africa that infects both domestic and wild animals, including our closest evolutionary relatives.
The bacteria responsible for anthrax is known as Bacillus anthracis, and is closely related to another less threatening and more widespread species known as Bacillus cereus. Commonly found in the ground and soil around the world, most of the time B. cereus is harmless, but it now seems that one particular strain in Africa has developed a more sinister ability.
After sampling goats in a remote Congolese village, researchers from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin isolated a bacteria found in an animal that was dying. Not long after, they also sampled the remains of a chimpanzee, gorilla, and forest elephant found dead in the forests of Cameroon, Central African Republic, and Côte d’Ivoire.
From these, they identified a novel strain of the B. cereus bacteria, but one that has seemingly evolved a similar lifestyle to B. anthracis independently. The researchers have called the new strain “B. cereus biovar anthracis”, as it seemingly displays a mixture of features from both bacteria. They reported the findings in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
One of the researchers sampling the carcass of a forest elephant discovered in central Africa, in which they found the novel strain of bacteria. Antonation et al.