Chapter: Biotechnology Applying the Genetic Revolution: Bacterial Infections

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Bacterial Infections

Infections of humankind as well as of animals and plants are caused by a diverse assortment of microorganisms, including viruses, bacteria, and various single-celled eukaryotes.

Bacterial Infections


INTRODUCTION

Infections of humankind as well as of animals and plants are caused by a diverse assortment of microorganisms, including viruses, bacteria, and various single-celled eukaryotes. The mechanisms of infection range from the simple approach of certain filamentous fungi that merely grow on unprotected organic matter to the highly sophisticated schemes for invasion and survival of specialized pathogens such as bubonic plague or malaria. Here we are concerned with applying modern molecular biology to understand and combat infection. The molecular mechanisms used by infectious microorganisms are best understood for pathogenic bacteria, especially those closely related to the molecular biologist’s model organism, Escherichia coli . While most strains of E. coli are harmless, a few virulent strains exist that illustrate many of the principles of infection at the molecular level. Although viruses have smaller genomes than bacteria, they are obligate intracellular parasites and depend on many host-cell gene products for replication. Consequently, viruses interact in acomplex manner with the host-cell genome, which often makes analysis more complicated than for bacteria. Most difficult of all to understand are infections such as malaria or sleeping sickness that are due to single-celled eukaryotes. Modern genetic analysis can be applied to any organism, whether invading microorganism or victim of infection, that has DNA or RNA that can be extracted, sequenced, and manipulated. Molecular approaches have greatly aided both the understanding and the diagnosis of infectious disease. Today they are starting to provide new methods to protect against disease.

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