Molecular mechanisms of bacterial pathogenicity.
Theodor-Boveri-Institut, Universitat Wurzburg, Germany.
Cautious optimism has arisen over recent decades with respect to the long struggle against bacteria, viruses, and parasites. This has been offset, however, by a fatal complacency stemming from previous successes such as the development of antimicrobial drugs, the eradication of smallpox, and global immunization programs. Infectious diseases nevertheless remain the world's leading cause of death, killing at least 17 million persons annually . Diarrheal diseases caused by Vibrio cholerae or Shigella dysenteriae kill about 3 million persons every year, most of them young children: Another 4 million die of tuberculosis or tetanus. Outbreaks of diphtheria in Eastern Europe threatens the population with a disease that had previously seemed to be overcome. Efforts to control infectious diseases more comprehensively are undermined not only by socioeconomic conditions but also by the nature of the pathogenic organisms itself; some isolates of Staphylococcus aureus and Enterobacter have become so resistant to drugs by horizontal gene transfer that they are almost untreatable. In addition, the mechanism of genetic variability helps pathogens to evade the human immune system, thus compromising the development of powerful vaccines. Therefore detailed knowledge of the molecular mechanisms of microbial pathogenicity is absolutely necessary to develop new strategies against infectious diseases and thus to lower their impact on human health and social development.