In a new study, researchers from The Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Houston have identified a genetic mutation that appears to protect people from developing flesh-eating disease called necrotizing fasciitis.
They found that inactivating this section of the gene lessens the devastating disease in humans.
"The study of genomics has opened a wealth of information on how disease develops on a molecular level," said Dr. James Musser, co-director of The Methodist Hospital Research Institute.
"When we identify a gene mutation that has a direct effect on a disease - like we have done for the flesh-eating bacteria - this opens up doors to designing drugs that provide treatments and cures," he added.
Necrotizing fasciitis is rare but serious. It is lethal in approximately 30 percent of those who develop it.
The most common cause is the group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacteria, the same bacteria that causes strep throat.
"Single-nucleotide changes are the most common cause of natural genetic variation among members of the same species, but there is remarkably little information on how these common genetic mutations affect the infectious and damaging nature of some bacteria," said Musser.
"It is one of these single-nucleotide mutations in the GAS genome that is associated with decreased human necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh eating disease," he added.
The research team showed that the mutation caused a segment of the gene to "turn off," which reduced the disease's ability to destroy soft tissue, spread from the infection site, and cause human necrotizing fasciitis and death.
The study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).