Group A streptococci (GAS) are the infamous bacteria responsible for causing the ubiquitous 'Strep. throat'. They are also the same 'flesh-eating bugs' that cause necrotizing fasciitis, a rare but difficult-to-treat infection that destroys soft tissues and can be fatal.
Although what causes this common and usually harmless bug to turn nasty is a mystery, Colette Cywes and Michael Wessels of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, report in a letter to this week's (Nature, Vol. 414, No. 6864, 06 Dec 2001) how the bug might bore through tissue.
GAS are coated with molecules mimicking a natural signalling compound, which instructs cells to let go of their neighbours and move around. These molecules are crucial in allowing the bacteria to push through normally impenetrable tissues and cause infection, the duo show.
Because this molecular coating is also crucial for GAS to attach to tissues in the throat, the work may lead to new treatments for Strep. throat, as well as answer questions about what causes necrotizing fasciitis.
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Message posted by: Trevor M. D'Souza