The Atlantic

When Gut Bacteria Betray Their Hosts

Decades after a deadly outbreak, a researcher found a key clue to its cause inside frozen microbes.
Source: CDC / Pete Wardell

For three decades, the deadly bacteria sat in cold storage. Normally, Enterococcus faecalis lives harmlessly in the human gut. One particular strain, however, caused a series of strangely persistent infections at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in the 1980s. The E. faecalis found its way into patients’ blood and grew resistant to antibiotics. Patients started to die.

The outbreak ran its course, but its origins remained a mystery. How do bacteria that live without causing distress in, then a doctor at the University of Wisconsin, thought to save samples from the 1980s outbreak.

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