SPECTROSCOPY/EPIDEMIOLOGY: FTIR approach quickly, accurately IDs aggressive Staph bacteria

A new infrared (IR) spectroscopy technique operates without the use of complex antibodies to quickly distinguish between strains of Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) bacteria, showing which can cause chronic infections and which cannot.

S. aureus tends to colonize the skin and upper respiratory tract in humans. A healthy immune system can fight it, but in an organism with a weakened immune system, the pathogen can spread and lead to life-threatening diseases of the lungs, heart, and other organs. S. aureus also produces toxins in foods that can cause serious food poisoning—and its effects are not confined to humans, which is why the IR technique was developed by researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Austria).

A new FTIR spectroscopy approach distinguishes aggressive strains of Staph bacteria
A new FTIR spectroscopy approach distinguishes aggressive strains of Staph bacteria. (Image courtesy of Tom Grunert/University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna)

S. aureus is typically detected using a complex procedure involving antibodies that are produced in animal experiments. By contrast, the new Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy technique is a simple matter of shining IR light on the microorganisms. The resulting spectral data are input into an artificial neuronal network, which makes the distinction between strain types. According to Tom Grunert, a doctor of natural sciences who was lead author on a paper describing the approach, the method enables routine testing of patient samples with success rate of approximately 99%.

Understanding of virulence and persistence mechanisms and the way aggressive S. aureus strains switch between them promises to enable better therapies.

1. T. Grunert et al., J. Clin. Microbiol., 51, 7, 2261–2266 (2013).

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