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Superbug can manufacture venom-like poison

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Hospital superbug colonies can make poisons similar to those find in rattlesnake venom, scientists heard at a conference.

During a presentation at the Society for General Microbiology’s autumn meeting, held this week at Trinity College, Dublin, Dr Martin Welch from Cambridge University, said the toxins were manufactured by the hospital superbug Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

The bacteria manufacture the toxins in communities called biofilms, which can form in patients’ bodies and are a thousand times more resistant to antibiotics than free-floating bacterial cells.

Dr Welch theorised that the biggest risk from biofilms is likely to be when a piece of the community breaks free, causing infections in patients who suffer from long-term conditions such as cystic fibrosis.

Dr Welch explained: ‘We think that the bacteria in a cystic fibrosis sufferer's lungs are partly living in communities called biofilms, and although medical scientists have investigated their strongly antibiotic-resistant properties, very little research has been done to investigate any active contribution the biofilms might have in causing diseases in the first place.’

Findings were presented in a poster presentation today, called ‘Biofilms of Pseudomonas aeruginosa secrete an altered spectrum of virulence factors compared with their planktonic counterparts.’

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