What’s the News: Gonorrhea, known in earlier days as the clap, has generally been considered the training wheels of STDs: a young sailor on his first tour of duty would feel a slight burning while urination, get a big shot of penicillin in the infirmary, learn the error of his ways, and start carrying a condom in his wallet.
But after years of warning that drug resistance in STDs was on the way, scientists have now found a strain of the bacterium that stands up to the usual antibiotic treatments, sparking fears that the days of easily banished gonorrhea are over.
The bacterium called Neisseria gonorrhoeae is what gives humans the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea. And it also takes something: human DNA. Northwestern University researchers report in the journal mBio that they’ve found pieces of human DNA in samples of the bacteria.
Gonorrhea is one of very few diseases exclusive to our species, and is one of the oldest recorded diseases in human history. An ancient disease that resembles gonorrhea’s symptoms is even described in the Bible, according to Hank Seifert, senior author of a paper on the gene transfer. [Popular Science]
Seifert and colleague Mark Anderson looked at 14 different samples of N. gonorrhoeae. Three of them possessed the chunk of human DNA. And they only saw it in the gonorrhea bacteria:
The pair looked for the same human DNA fragment in the genetically related bacterium Neisseria menigitidis, known to cause meningitis. “We screened many isolates and it wasn’t present,” says Seifert. That means the transfer to N. gonorrhoeae must have occurred since the two bacterial species diverged around 200,000 years ago. [New Scientist]