A new study has shed light on how Staphylococcus aureus emerges, by discovering how it is able to jump between species. This research may help improve the use of antibiotics and create better strategies for limiting disease spread. The research was conducted by the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, UK, the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Sanger Institute.
The team analysed the genetic make up of more than 800 strains of S. aureus that were isolated from people and animals. They found that humans were likely the original host for the bacteria, with the first strains capable of infecting livestock emerging around the time that animals were first domesticated for farming.
The study found that cows have been a source of strains that now cause infections in human populations worldwide, which the researchers say highlights the importance of disease surveillance in people and animals to spot strains that could cause major epidemics. Additional findings were that genes linked to antibiotic resistance are unevenly distributed among strains that infect humans, compared with those that infect animals, which the researchers believe reflects the distinct practices linked to antibiotic usage in medicine and agriculture.
Looking ahead, the team said that investigating how the bacteria are affected by genetic changes that occur after it jumps species could highlight opportunities to develop new antibacterial therapies, as well as informing better strategies for managing infections to reduce the risk of transmission to people and slow the emergence of antibiotic resistance.