Pneumonia bacteria attacks lungs with toxic weaponry

Streptococcus pneumoniae

Streptococcus pneumoniae attack cells and genes in the lungs using hyrdogen peroxide, a new study finds.

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When infecting healthy lung cells, Streptococcus pneumoniae deploys a barrage of hydrogen peroxide to damage DNA and cells, researchers report June 15 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

S. pneumoniae is responsible for a slew of diseases, including pneumonia. By fleshing out the microbe’s precise effects, the team determined that some S. pneumoniae strains carry a gene called spxB that allows them to secrete high enough levels of hydrogen peroxide to break strands of DNA.

The more DNA damage induced by the chemical, the sooner the cells die, the researchers also found. Combating DNA and cell wreckage may offer a new front in treating bouts of pneumonia, the scientists conclude.

Helen Thompson is the multimedia editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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