A new bacterium in pigs' stomachs identified using a pioneering technique, could help in discovering new treatments for stomach ulcers, researchers from Gent University in Belgium have revealed.
Helicobacter pylori are the bacterium that commonly causes stomach ulcers in humans and have been the subject of extensive study.
However, researchers in 1990 found that in a small percentage of biopsies a similar bacterium is present.
Numerous attempts to grow the bacterium in laboratories were unsuccessful till the one by the research team from Belgium.
"We have developed a new method to cultivate these bacteria and can now study their main characteristics and virulence properties," said Professor Dr Freddy Haesebrouck from Gent University in Belgium.
The researchers had to recreate aspects of the bacterium's natural habitat, the stomach.
They used acid, which kills other microbes but is needed for these bacteria to grow.
Charcoal was used to remove substances that are toxic to the stomach bacterium.
Researchers conducted genetic analysis and identified a new species related to the common stomach ulcer bacterium Helicobacter pylori -Helicobacter suis.
H. suis has been linked to stomach ulcers in pigs, which may cause sudden death.
"The economic losses for the pork industry and the risk of the bacteria infecting humans justify the need for further research," said Dr Margo Baele from Gent University in Belgium.
"Data shows that people in close contact with pigs have a higher risk of infection; this suggests H. suis is a zoonotic agent, capable of being transmitted from animals to humans.
Haesebrouck said: "We know very little about how the bacterium infects humans and pigs and how it causes disease. Thanks to this research, pure isolates of H. suis are now available, bringing new perspectives to the study of this organism and its interaction with the host."
The new method will allow researchers to determine whether the bacterium is resistant to antibiotics, which will lead to better treatment strategies, both in pigs and humans.
The researchers hope it may also result in the development of an effective vaccine.
The study is published in the June issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.