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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.
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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