Friday, June 10, 2011

Gut bug villain identified

Germany has finally decided that bean sprouts are the source of the lethal strain of Escherichia coli.

But are German scientist well-informed and correct? After all the tergiversations, an observer of the devastating effects of Germany's outrageous Cucumbergate might have doubts.

In any case, it would be normal that Germany should pay cash for this erroneous rashness.

The notorious new strain of E. coli bacteria that came to light in Germany has caused acute diarrhea followed by a life-threatening affliction known as HUS (hemolytic-uremic syndrome), characterized by hemolytic anemia (breakdown of red blood cells) and acute uremia (kidney failure).

The designation of the deadly new strain, O104:H4, has nothing to do with the actual genome of this bacterium, which was sequenced in China at the BGI-Shenzhen laboratory. The O and H terms, designating the bacterium's serotype, refer to simple chemical substances called antigens that cover, respectively, the cell walls and tails of the bacteria, provoking defensive reactions (production of antibodies) from the immune system of the host in which the bacteria reside.

In fact, we humans have been living for ages with these terrifying E coli creatures, who've often become intimate friends. As the science-writer Robert Krulwich says so beautifully [click the bacteria images], they're our partners in the gigantic time-space adventure of existence, rather than our declared enemies, and we should respect them.

I nevertheless draw attention to a highly-pertinent document that I downloaded from the website of the University of California [find it by Google], suggesting that mungo bean seeds can be pathogenic, and that their inherent nastiness can move into sprouts in organic gardens. What more do we need to know or say?

ADDENDUM: This is a photo by Stew Milne for The New York Times. Click it to access an interesting US article on links between bean sprouts and the German bacterial outbreak. I learn that such events, in the USA, are referred to as sproutbreaks.

This fashionable foodstuff may indeed be most nutritious, and give the human consumer the pleasant sensation of being transformed into a herbivorous mammal (which we are not) akin to cows, horses and donkeys. What a pity that genetics in general, and bacteria in particular, don't have much respect for the latest nutritional fashions.

The Wikipedia article on the 2011 E. coli O104:H4 outbreak [display] is now well updated and informative... hopefully definitive.

Click the banner for an interesting and novel explanation of how the deadly bacteria might have set up home in our society.

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