The World Health Organization calls Campylobacter "the most common bacterial cause of human gastroenteritis in the world,” and with CDC data showing that over a million people in the U.S. infected every year, it’s not surprising that there is bountiful research trying to understand why this spiral shaped microbe causes disease.

It is a bacterium that lives naturally in the intestinal track of poultry and cattle – with no effect on them. However, when it enters the human body it causes debilitating diarrhea and severe abdominal cramping. For those reasons, the U.S. Navy Medical Research Center and the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health set out to explore ways to protect our military personnel from the effects of infection.  The University of Georgia team, led by Dr. Stephen Trent’s infectious disease laboratory took the study a step further, examining the infected samples of the original study participants to determine how the bacteria adapts in humans.

The team was able to identify genes Campylobacter relies on to successfully adapt within humans, including genes that promote persistent infections, providing targets for future therapies. This represents a new scientific endeavor for the Trent lab, and continued work will build off these initial findings to help Campylobacter therapy development.  

“These bacteria can have far-reaching effects on the population, so it is vital that we understand why it acts the way it does in humans,” said Stephen Trent, Distinguished Professor of Infectious Disease at the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine.” The global impact of Campylobacter on children is also a major medical concern. As stated by Alex Crofts, the lead author of the study and a PhD graduate student in the Trent lab, “Campylobacter infections in young children, which can be persistent, have recently been associated with stunted growth leading to deficits that last into adulthood.” 

Unlike other bacteria that cause diarrhea, Campylobacter has no known toxins that attack the human intestinal tract – so it is unclear exactly why it causes illness. The paper that details the UGA research is titled, “Campylobacter jejuni transcriptional and genetic adaptation during human infection” and has been published in the prestigious Nature journal, Nature Microbiology, garnering the cover story. The article can be found here https://www.nature.com/articles/s41564-018-0133-7