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Monday 26th August 2019

'Biological alchemy' a 'clever and sophisticated' technique

18th January 2013

A team at Edinburgh University has highlighted for the first time how infectious bacteria have been able to perform what is described as "biological alchemy".

stem cell research

Reporting their findings in the journal Cell, they report how the bacteria transformed parts of a host body into those more suited to their purposes.

The research focused on leprosy-causing bacteria, which turned nerves into stem cells and muscle, and now the researchers hope the technique could be harnessed to advance stem-cell research and develop new treatments.

Researcher Professor Anura Rambukkana described the findings as "something very, very striking".

Experiments on mice and cells grown in the laboratory showed the leprosy bug infected nerve cells and then, within weeks, began to subvert the nerves for their own ends. The chemistry of the cells changed and they became stem cells.

“This is a stem cell that is generated by the body’s own tissue so the immune system does not recognise it and they can get any place they want without being attacked,” said Professor Rambukkana.

“It’s the first time a bacterial infection has been shown to make stem cells, that’s the big thing here.”

Professor Chris Mason, a specialist in stem cell research at University College London, described the “amazing discovery” and the process as “alchemy by nature on a grand scale.”

Dr Rob Buckle, head of regenerative medicine at the Medical Research Council, said: “This discovery is important not just for our understanding and treatment of bacterial disease, but for the rapidly progressing field of regenerative medicine.”


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