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. Study finds new way for disease to evolve

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by Staff Writers
Hamilton, Ontario (UPI) Feb 17, 2009
A Canadian-led study has discovered a new mode of disease evolution, giving scientists another way to identify and assign risk to emerging diseases.

Scientists at McMaster University, the University of Melbourne and the University of Illinois found bacteria can develop into illness-causing pathogens by rewiring regulatory DNA, the genetic material that controls disease-causing genes in a body. Previously, disease evolution was thought to occur mainly through the addition or deletion of genes.

"Bacterial cells contain about 5,000 different genes, but only a fraction of them are used at any given time," said McMaster University Assistant Professor Brian Coombes, who led the research. "The difference between being able to cause disease, or not cause disease, lies in where, when and what genes in this collection are turned on. We've discovered how bacteria evolve to turn on just the right combination of genes in order to cause disease in a host."

With infectious diseases on the rise, the finding has implications on how new pathogens are identified in the environment, he said.

"This opens up significant new challenges for us as we move forward with this idea of assigning risk to new pathogens," Coombes said. "Because now, we know it's not just gene content -- it is gene content plus regulation of those genes."

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Burkina Faso warns of possible meningitis epidemic
Ouagadougou (AFP) Feb 16, 2009
The authorities of Burkina Faso on Monday warned that the west African country is facing a possible meningitis epidemic as well as an "abnormal increase" in measles in the past three months.

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