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Can cake cause epidemics?

A sugar additive used in several foods may have helped Clostridium difficile spread, according to a new study.


Trehalose, which is commonly found in food such as cakes, nutrition bars and chewing gum, is being linked with two strains of the bacterium.

These are RT027 and RT078, which are capable of causing diarrhoea, colitis, organ failure, and potentially even death.

Robert Britton from the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, said: “Clostridium difficile disease has recently increased to become a dominant pathogen in North America and Europe, although little is known about what has driven this emergence.

“Here we show that two epidemic ribotypes have acquired unique mechanisms to metabolise low concentrations of the disaccharide trehalose.”

He added: “We propose the implementation of trehalose as a food additive into the human diet, shortly before the emergence of these two epidemic lineages, helped select for their emergence and contributed to hypervirulence.”

Analysis of the genomes of these two strains, and found DNA sequences that enabled them to feed off low doses of trehalose sugar very efficiently.


Picture credit | iStock

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