Hindustan Times (Lucknow)

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

- Prasun Sonwalkar letters@hindustant­imes.com

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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