With barbeque season upon us, some unlucky people can expect to find themselves counted amongst the thousands that get Salmonella food poisoning every year in the UK. Most people manage to ride out the infection, but it can be very dangerous and even fatal in the very old and very young. But according the new research published in the journal PLoS Pathogens this month, scientists may have found Salmonella's Achilles' heel.
The researchers discovered that Salmonella-causing bacteria are highly dependent on a particular nutrient - a combination of an amino acid and sugar called fructose-asparagine, found in the gut. Without it, they become 1,000 times less effective at sustaining disease than when they're fully fed. Unexpectedly, this is the first time that fructose-asparagine has been found to be a food source for any kind of organism, and it's very unusual for bacteria to be so dependent on a single food source.
Next, the scientists identified a cluster of five genes responsible for transporting the chemical into the Salmonella bacteria and chopping it up so they can use it as fuel. These could potentially be targets for drugs to halt the infection while leaving other good bacteria, which don't depend on fructose-asparagine. The team is now working to figure out exactly when this nutrient is most important for Salmonella's survival, and which human foods provide rich sources, which could also help to relieve the misery of food poisoning. But in the meantime, please take care over your food hygiene if you're planning a barbie this summer.