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.