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April 30, 2009 — Bacteria that normally
reside on the skin of healthy people can cause serious infections in
premature babies. A group of researchers at the Swedish medical
university Karolinska Institutet have now found an explanation for why
a certain kind of staphylococcus can attach itself to the skin and
quickly develop dynamic ecosystems: the bacteria are like tufted,
Staphylococcus establishes itself on the child's skin and mucous
membranes directly after birth. In healthy adults and children, these
bacteria normally live in harmony with the host organism. However, in
sick adults or premature babies, they can cause blood poisoning.
The scientists believe that the hair-like protrusions on the surface
of the bacteria that have now been identified serve to adhere the
bacteria to the host's cells, whereupon they cause infection. They also
found that the antimicrobial substance LL37, which is found on the skin
(amongst other places) can inhibit the growth of the bacteria, and
probably plays an important part in keeping the bacteria flora stable
and inhibiting their uncontrolled proliferation.
"We wanted to conduct this research not only to learn more about the
pathogenic potential of the bacteria, but also to understand how the
child can protect itself from attack by, for instance, enhancing the
body's own defences," says Giovanna Marchini, associate professor at
Karolinska Institutet and senior physician at the Astrid Lindgren
Children's Hospital neonatal section.
Dr Marchini stresses that humans have evolved effective forms of
co-existence with certain microbes; for example, the most common
intestinal bacteria produces Vitamin K, which we need every day and
which is important for the blood's coagulative properties. Bacteria are
also necessary for the development of an effective immune defence
system. In recent years, these 'beneficial' bacteria have been the
object of increasingly intensive study, and are behind the development
of the 'hygiene theory'.
"It's thought that the past decades' hunt for disease-causing
bacteria means that we now live too cleanly, which has contributed to
the sharp rise in allergies and other ‘luxury diseases'," continues Dr
Marchini. "Other than wanting to prevent infection in babies, we also
think it's an exciting challenge to understand the conceivable health
aspects of these tiny, round and tufted skin dwellers."
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