A new approach to study potentially deadly disease-causing bacteria, which could help speed up the process of finding vaccines has been devised by scientists.
Andrea Dowling from the University of Exeter has pioneered a simple screen, which can help isolate the virulent parts of the gene structures of pathogenic bacteria.
The screen allows researchers to simultaneously run thousands of tests where genes from the pathogen are pitted against the human blood cells that normally attack them.
"By looking at the results from these tests it is possible to determine which parts of a pathogen's genetic code allow it to override immune systems," said Dowling.
"From there we can focus in on those key areas to find out how the pathogen works and how we can develop vaccines. The screen allows us to study and tackle the causes of disease and infection much quicker than other methods," he said.
The screen has been used by Dowling and other researchers at Exeter to look at genes in the important pathogen, Burkholderia pseudomallei, which causes the potentially deadly human disease, melioidosis.
Burkholderia appears to be able to infect man directly from the environment via cuts and grazes. Normally any invading bacteria would be consumed by the body's immune system, but Burkholderia bacteria seem to resist being eaten and can spread to other parts of the body in a very nasty infection.
Using the screen, the researchers were able to isolate the unique parts of Burkholderia's genetic code, which could be responsible for its resistance to the human immune system.
The research is published in the journal PLoS ONE.