Bacteria that causes leprosy is mutating into something even more dangerous
Thousands of people are already affected by the debilitating condition and this is terrible news.
Despite now being relatively easy to cure, leprosy has a reputation for being one of the worst diseases to have plagued humanity, having been around for the entirety of recorded history.
The contagious disease affects the skin, mucous membranes, and nerves, causing discoloration and lumps on the skin and, in severe cases, disfigurement and deformities.
In the past, before treatment was readily available, those suffering with the condition were forced to live in 'colonies' away from the rest of society. Luckily that has now changed.
After the Second World War a number of drugs were developed to fight the bacteria, with the condition restricted mainly to areas with poor access to health.
But new finding by aninternational team of scientists reporting in the journal Nature Communications has surveyed the genomes of Mycobacterium leprae, have found that strains of the bacteria have hypermutated to become resistant to traditional drugs.
“It’s a fascinating survival strategy against antibiotics,” Andrej Benjak, the study’s lead author, explained in a statement. “Disrupting DNA repair will result in a storm of random mutations, increasing the chance that the right gene mutates at the right spot and lead to drug resistance. But random mutations can be deadly, so it’s like a desperate, genetic Russian roulette for the bacterium.”
“This is an important finding,” said Stewart Cole, one of the study’s authors. “The way clofazimine, one of the main leprosy drugs, works is completely unknown but now we have a new lead to investigate thanks to this analysis of multidrug-resistant M. leprae.”
As with the problem of antibiotic resistance, when these type of mutations occur in significant enough numbers, the long term implication could be that more drugs need to be developed so that we can continue to treat the condition effectively.