Published November 12, 2013
Trevor Lawley keeps hundreds of samples of C. difficile in his freezer, each identified by the country in which the bacterium unleashed its unique brand of misery and death.
He tracked down Aus001 in Melbourne, Australia; collected Gla010 in Glasgow, Scotland; and picked up Lei017 in the Netherlands as part of an international hunt for the origin of “epidemic” C. difficile – a global menace that pumps toxins into the guts of its victims. It has spread around the world’s hospitals in the last decade, killing thousands.
Lawley, a Canadian with a flair for microbial forensics who now works at a leading British research centre, spent two years travelling the globe collecting hundreds of samples of C. difficile.
Then, in his lab at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, near Cambridge, Lawley and his colleagues extracted the bacteria’s secrets.
Two strains of antibiotic resistant C. difficile that emerged in North America caused the global epidemic, the sleuths report.
One emerged in the northeast U.S. a decade ago; the second, which they call FQR2, surfaced in Quebec.