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Salmonella gets a bad rap

With all the recall commotion of late about salmonella-tainted peanuts (BioRC’s favorite granola bars by Kashi have even been pulled from Costco shelves), we thought now would be a good time to remind everyone that salmonella isn’t completely evil and has been rather useful in the lab environment over the past century.

Bruce Ames, an American biochemist and molecular biologist, developed the eponymous test that is an indicator of the cancer-causing potential of chemicals. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Ames devoted his energies to the development of the Ames test, a measure of the degree to which synthetic chemicals cause gene mutation, or a change in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the molecule that carries genetic information. He began by deliberately mutating a Salmonella bacterium. The mutated bacterium could not produce an amino acid called histidine that normal bacteria manufacture in order to survive. Next Ames added just enough histidine to his altered Salmonella sample to allow the bacteria to live; at the same time he introduced one of several synthetic chemicals he was testing. If the added chemical caused genetic mutation, the abnormal gene of the Salmonella bacteria would undergo a fundamental change and again be able to produce histidine. Any mutation-causing test chemical was marked as a suspected carcinogen (cancer-causing agent), since cancer is associated with somatic cell mutation.

Source: “Bruce N. Ames.” Scientists: Their Lives and Works, Vols. 1-7. Online Edition. U*X*L, 2006.

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Posted on: February 17, 2009, 2:59 pm Category: Factoids Tagged with:

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