The research not only reveals the intricate level of gene expression the bacteria employ to survive in the human body, but potentially could lead to new treatments. Currently, antibiotics are prescribed to patients with the disease.
“These findings are feeding into the basic understanding of this gene expression so that future researchers can work to disrupt it," Broach said. “The more we know about it, the more targets we have to disrupt it and to possibly develop targeted antibiotic treatments."
For those living in developing countries, where access to clean drinking water can be scarce, an improved medical treatment for shigellosis could mean the difference between life and death.
“In the United States, if we get severe diarrhea we can go to the store and get Gatorade," Murphy said. “But if you're already starving to begin with because you don't have access to good food and clean water, then you get shigellosis on top of that—and you don’t have good water to rehydrate yourself—that’s when the deaths happen."
The disease, which is transmitted person to person or through contaminated food or water sources, has an infectious dose of just 10 organisms, meaning as few as 10 organisms can cause disease in a healthy person. This infectious dose is exceedingly low compared to other bacteria that require tens of thousands of organisms to cause disease.