Scientists to tackle the most common cause of diarrhoea world-wide with DNA sequencing

Returning holidaymakers may be comforted to know that travellers' diarrhoea could be a thing of the past. Scientists at the University of Birmingham's Medical School are set to sequence the DNA of the bacterium: this will identify causes of illness and point to better cures.

Enterotoxigenic E.coli (ETEC) is the most common cause of food and water-borne human diarrhoea world-wide. Approximately 50% of travellers from industrialised nations to less developed countries experience diarrhoea, and the ETEC bacteria are responsible for 70% of cases. It is also the biggest medical problem for troops deployed overseas; 60% of troops sent to Iraq get a dose of 'Delhi belly'. Most tragically, the incidence in developing countries is estimated at 650 million cases per year, resulting in 800,000 deaths from dehydration, primarily in children under the age of five.

£330,000 has been awarded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to fund a two year laboratory project at the University of Birmingham and Cambridge's Wellcome Trust Research Institute. The DNA sequence of ETEC will be completed. This will identify the differences compared to the E.coli that harmlessly inhabits our intestines. Once the elements of DNA that cause diarrhoea are identified drugs can be targeted to inhibit these bacteria; this could also lead to a vaccine against the bugs. Samples collected worldwide will be used to trace common themes among a diverse selection.

Study leader Dr Ian Henderson is a lecturer in infection at the University of Birmingham. He says: "Completing the DNA sequence will be the most important breakthrough in the field of ETEC research in the last two decades. This is complex science that could have an impact on millions of people worldwide. I will be delighted if the work of my team and our collaborators can lead to better treatments of this uncomfortable and dangerous illness and even a vaccine against it".

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