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Salmonella: The Trojan Horse of Germs

How salmonella multiplies in undercooked or raw food may be through what scientists compare to the ancient Trojan Horse, by taking over and infecting host cells.

This unusual look into the machinery of this sometimes deadly food-borne bacteria, courtesy of an electron microscope and other technologies, may one day help researchers design drugs to thwart this and other germs.

According to the CDC, about 40,000 cases of salmonella infection are reported in the US each year, although the actual number of cases may be 30 times higher or more. Although most people recover without treatment, some 600 people die every year.

The use of the electron microscope in determining the salmonella germs migration may be the beginning of an enlightening journey. "This is one small component of a very big puzzle," said Edward Egelman, co-author of a study into salmonella’s unique properties. Egelman is a professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at the University of Virginia Health System.

It’s not yet clear how this knowledge will translate into protective or therapeutic gains.

"This is just a fragment," Egelman said. "We obviously want to look at larger and larger pieces of this protein. There are other salmonella proteins that are part of the same secretion system, and several of them bind to actin, and we want to look at those."