How a WW-I sol­dier is sav­ing lives years after his death

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - WORLD - Pra­sun Son­walkar let­ters@hin­dus­tan­

LONDON: A bac­te­ria grown from a Bri­tish sol­dier who died of dysen­tery in World War I has had its ge­netic code un­locked us­ing genome se­quenc­ing, which re­vealed that the bug was al­ready resistant to peni­cillin around 25 years be­fore it was com­monly used to treat in­fec­tious dis­eases.

A sci­en­tific pa­per de­scrib­ing this find­ing ‘The ex­tant World War 1 dysen­tery bacil­lus NCTC1: a ge­nomic anal­y­sis’ was pub­lished in Fri­day’s The Lancet as a com­mem­o­ra­tion of World War I. The bac­te­ria, called NCTC1, was the very first to be sub­mit­ted into the Na­tional Col­lec­tion of Type Cul­tures (NCTC) and is a type of bac­te­ria known as Shigella flexneri. The NCTC was started in 1920 to pro­vide sci­en­tists with a re­li­able source of bac­te­ria of known iden­tity for their stud­ies.

It now holds over 5,000 bac­te­ria and is housed at Pub­lic Health Eng­land (PHE) sites near London and in Por­ton Down in Wilt­shire.

The sol­dier, Pri­vate Ernest Cable of the sec­ond Bat­tal­ion East Sur­rey Reg­i­ment, died on March 13, 1915 of dysen­tery. Symp­toms of dysen­tery in­clude di­ar­rhoea and vom­it­ing which can be caused by the bac­terium Shigella flexneri, which was iso­lated from Pri­vate Cable.

Bac­te­ria con­stantly change (evolve) in their bid for sur­vival. The genes which make a bac­terium resistant to an­tibi­otics are known to have ex­isted in some cases even be­fore the wide­spread use of an­tibi­otics.

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