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Antimicrobial susceptibility testing in petri dish.
Golden staph is notorious for its antibiotic resistance, which makes it hard to treat and can lead to adverse health outcomes in infected patients.

Genes behind Antibiotic Resistance in S. aureus Infections Identified

The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

Finding solutions to prevent, treat and cure infectious diseases and understanding the complexities of microbes and the immune system requires innovative approaches and concentrated effort. This is why the University of Melbourne – a world leader in education, teaching and research excellence – and The Royal Melbourne Hospital – an internationally renowned institution providing outstanding care, research and learning – partnered to create the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute); a centre of excellence where leading scientists and clinicians collaborate to improve human health globally.

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Published:Sep 12, 2023
|2 min read
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While common, Staphylococcus aureus infections—known as golden staph—can be life-threatening if the bacteria enter the bloodstream, causing sepsis. Golden staph is notorious for its antibiotic resistance, which makes it hard to treat and can lead to adverse health outcomes in infected patients.

Published in Cell Reports, as part of one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind, researchers led by the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), analyzed the unique genetic profiles of more than 1,300 golden staph strains. By combining this data with patient and antibiotic information, the researchers found that specific genes are linked to antibiotic resistance along with the bacteria’s ability to linger in the blood, evading antibiotics and the immune system. 

University of Melbourne’s Stefano Giulieri, MD, PhD, a clinician-researcher at the Doherty Institute and first author of the paper, said the findings highlighted the diagnostic power of integrating clinical and genomic data. “To the best of our knowledge, this is one of the first times that the method we used, called a genome-wide association study (GWAS), has been applied to delve into the role of bacterial genomes, host factors, and antibiotics on the course of staphylococcal sepsis,” said Giulieri. 

In GWAS, scientists scan the genome of a big collection of bacteria to look for tiny changes (mutations) that show up more often in strains with a certain characteristic, such as antibiotic resistance. Mutations with a strong statistical link are precious clues to figuring out how bacteria acquire attributes that are important for patient outcomes. “Our study uncovered a deeper understanding of the intricate genetic dynamics underlying severe golden staph infections. It highlights the potential of combining bacterial whole-genome sequencing, clinical data, and sophisticated statistical genomics to discover clinically relevant bacterial factors that influence infection outcomes.” 

University of Melbourne’s Benjamin Howden, PhD, professor, director of the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit (MDU) Public Health Laboratory at the Doherty Institute, and co-senior author of the paper, said that this work represents a significant advancement in medical research as it reshapes our strategies against complex health challenges. “This knowledge has the potential to shape and enhance our ability to tackle these persistent infections. As bacterial genomes become increasingly available in the clinical routine, we inch closer to customized therapeutic strategies, where treatments will be tailored to the unique genetic makeup of the infecting strain, rather than treating everyone in the same way.”

- This press release was originally published on The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity website