Research NewsInfectious Diseases

New Method Churns Out TB Mutants

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Science  29 May 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5368, pp. 1350-1351
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5368.1350b

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Carol Potera To ferret out new drug targets, researchers try to identify the genes that pathogens need to survive and infect the host by creating wholesale mutations in the microbial genome and then screening for mutants defective in those abilities. Until a few months ago, this was very hard to do with Mycobacterium tuberculosis [the pathogen that causes tuberculosis (TB)], partly because the vehicles typically used to create the mutations do not readily penetrate the microbe's tough, waxy coat. Last fall, however, a team of scientists reported creating a new type of vehicle that's much more efficient at producing mutations in M. tuberculosis; the team has since generated thousands of mutants, some of which have affected the pathogen's survival and virulence. Along with pointing to targets for new drugs, the mutants might also lead to new ways to protect against TB: vaccines based on the avirulent strains now being generated.