Scientists have identified the code for the bacterium that causes the potentially dangerous sexually transmitted disease syphilis.The discovery could pave the way for a preventive vaccine and better diagnostic tests and treatments.
Syphilis once caused widespread epidemics and is still a major cause of illness and death around the world. People with syphilis lesions are also at higher risk of HIV infection.Syphilis can be treated with injections of penicillin or other antibiotics.
In addition, the disease is difficult to diagnose and often repeated blood tests are needed.Until now scientists have been unable to keep Treponema pallidum, the bacterium which causes syphilis, alive in the laboratory long enough to work on a vaccine or better treatments.
Dr George Weinstock, who led the gene mapping study, said: "The genome sequence represents an encyclopedia of information on this elusive bacterium."We can now figure out ways to disarm its defences through vaccines, identify it quickly through new diagnostic tests and eliminate it with specific, targeted antibiotics."