University of Florida researchers have resolved a two-decade old mystery centered on how the bacteria Chlamydia divide and reproduce. In a new article published in the journal mBio, Dr. Anthony Maurelli, a microbiologist in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions and the Emerging Pathogens Institute, and colleagues reveal that how these parasitic pathogens replicate diverges from a nearly universal norm.
Best known as a sexually-transmitted disease, Chlamydia in the U.S. rose 3 percent between 2017 and 2018 for a total of 1.7 million cases – the highest ever reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is caused by a unique bacteria so small and unusual that researchers first mistook it for a virus.
It wasn’t only the pathogen’s small size that initially confused microbiologists, it was also the fact that scientists tried and failed to demonstrate the presence of a cell wall in Chlamydia.
“Chlamydia is a very important pathogen to public health. Despite all our medical advances, its incidence is increasing,” said lead author Dr. Dev Ranjit. “And for every bacteria that is studied, the most fundamental question is always, ‘How does this organism grow?’ Because if we can figure that out, we can stop them from growing and dividing.”
The mystery traces back to when the genome of Chlamydia trachomatis was first sequenced, and it was revealed that these bacteria lacked the normal genetic reproductive machinery employed nearly universally in all other bacteria. Nearly two decades later, Dr. Maurelli’s team is confident they have found two genes in Chlamydia — shape-determining genes which are common in most bacteria — which Chlamydia co-opts to mediate cell division.Friday Letter Submission, Publish on February 28