This is the first time that researchers were able to do this. By studying heightened toxin production in the molecules, they determined that these molecular events are a major factor in large epidemics of the illness.
The study involved approximately 5,000 group A streptococcus genomes. These genomes have been collected over decades.
"These findings now give us the opportunity to begin to develop new translational medicine tools and strategies," Dr. James Musser, principal investigator in the study and chairman of the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at the Houston Methodist Research Institute, said. "We can use this information to develop novel therapeutics, advanced diagnostic techniques and new ways to prevent, or dampen, epidemics.
"The surprise was that the changes involved alterations in the genes encoding two potent toxins that contribute to human infections," Musser, who is also director of the Center for Molecular and Translational Human Infectious Disease Research at Houston Methodist, said.
"Think about the Thermostat in your house that controls temperature,” Musser said. “If you want to make your house hotter, or if group A streptococcus wants to make itself 'hotter,' that is, more virulent, it turns up the heat by making more of these two toxins that harm human cells.”
Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital is at 18220 Texas Route 249, Houston.