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"Cutting Edge" -- The Discovery Files


The Discovery Files
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The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver.

Scientists at the University of Utah uncover how insects domesticate bacteria after a man, who was cutting down a tree, cut his hand and then sought medical help.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

'Penetrating' science.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: outdoors, clearing brush) On a crisp October day in 2010, Indiana resident Thomas Fritz decided to cut down a dead crab apple tree. As the 71-year-old dragged away the debris, a branch penetrated the fleshy skin between his thumb and forefinger. He dressed the wound; then waited for a scheduled visit with his doctor a few days later. The wound got infected, and a cyst formed. The doc put him on antibiotics and sent a sample of the cyst to a lab.

When the lab couldn't successfully id the bacterium, it was sent to a national pathology library run by the University of Utah. Genetic sequencing solved the mystery, by showing it was a previously undiscovered bacterium--one related to bacteria that live symbiotically inside 17 species of insects. It's the first time a bacterium that forms mutually beneficial relationships with insects has been found out in the environment--a missing link.

The researchers say if we can replace the bacteria inside the insects' guts with a genetically modified strain of the related new bacteria, it could be used to interfere with diseases transmitted by those insects.

A scientific advance begun quite by accident (Sound effect: man: ouch!) at the hand of a weekend lumberjack.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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