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Gonorrhea Is Poaching Human DNA

First Posted: 02/14/11 04:33 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:30 PM ET

Gonorrhea Steals Dna

We're used to the (rather unpleasant) idea that Gonorrhea, the sexually-transmitted disease, can glom onto us, causing painful urination, rash or fever. But now it turns out we actually impose a bit of ourselves on Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes the infection.

According to WIRED Magazine, researchers at Northwestern University have found the first-ever example of the direct transfer of a piece of human DNA to a bacterial genome.

In a report to be published in mBio, scientists report that the Gonorrhea bacteria had stolen a sequence of DNA bases from a DNA element found in humans.

So why should we care?

Hank Seifert, one of the paper's authors, shed some light on that in a recent press release:

This has evolutionary significance because it shows you can take broad evolutionary steps when you're able to acquire these pieces of DNA. The bacterium is getting a genetic sequence from the very host it's infecting. That could have far reaching implications as far as how the bacteria can adapt to the host.

Scientific American reports that about 50 million people worldwide get gonorrhea every year and though the infection is curable, it has grown increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Learning more about its human DNA fragment could help scientists find better treatments.

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Filed by Catherine Pearson  |