New Pathogen Discovered In Africa Causes Anthrax-Like Disease

Anthrax is caused by the gram-positive bacteria Bacillus anthracis. Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock

Josh Davis 08 Sep 2016, 19:00

The main factor that makes B. anthracis so virulent and deadly when contracted is the genes encoded on two small plasmids within the bacteria, known as pXO1 and pXO2. The researchers found that the new B. cereus biovar anthracis strain also has these two plasmids, presumably also conferring the virulence displayed, but that it has seemingly acquired them on its own. Yet while there are many subgroups within B. anthracis indicating multiple ancestors, there is only one within B. cereus biovar anthracis, suggesting a singular ancestry.  

The researchers suspect that the newly identified pathogen may be more widespread, potentially throughout the African continent, though it is potentially restricted to the more humid and warm regions of the tropics. This, postulate the authors, could be down to the strain's ability to produce spores under very specific climatic conditions, although obviously at the time of writing this is mainly speculation as more research needs to be undertaken as to the exact biology of the pathogen.

They warn, however, that due to the presence of the disease in both chimpanzees and gorillas, as well as in livestock, coupled with its apparent deadly nature, that more surveillance should be carried out in the region in order to assess its impact not only on threatened wildlife species, but also the local people living in the region.

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