New research provides the first detailed genetic picture of an evolutionary war between Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria and the vaccines and antibiotics used against it over recent decades. Large-scale genome sequencing reveals patterns of adaptation and the spread of a drug-resistant lineage of the S. pneumoniae bacteria.
The study unmasks the genetic events by which bacteria such as S. pneumoniae respond rapidly to new antibiotics and vaccines. The team suggest that knowing the enemy better could improve infection control measures.
S. pneumoniae is responsible for a broad range of human diseases, including pneumonia, ear infection and bacterial meningitis. Since the 1970s, some forms of the bacteria have gained resistance to many of the antibiotics traditionally used to treat the disease. In 2000 S. pneumoniae was responsible for 15 million cases of invasive disease across the globe. A new vaccine was introduced to the US in 2000 in an attempt to control disease resulting from the most common and drug resistant forms of the bacteria.
The new research uses DNA sequencing to precisely describe the recent evolution and success of a drug-resistant lineage of the bacteria called PMEN1 that has spread successfully to all continents.