Future Challenges

Genetics of Pathogenicity

Study of the pathogenesis of infectious diseases has come a long way since the first bacterial toxins were discovered little more than a century ago. Many questions, however, remain unanswered. Advances in genetic techniques have opened many areas of investigation. The availability of genetic sequence data has shown similarities in the virulence factors of diverse organisms. The discovery of pathogenicity islands bearing genes for a number of virulence factors in a cluster that is readily transferred opens the door to new approaches to understanding virulence.

One challenge is to understand how these virulence genes are regulated. It is known that bacteria express only the virulence genes appropriate for each host cell environment. Control is complex, and its study offers a fertile field of research.

Other challenges arise in trying to better understand interactions between microorganisms and host cells and tissues. Tools such as "knock-out mice" will be useful. These are mice in which specific genes have been inactivated or "knocked-out." It may be possible to use the host's immune system to modify the infectious process.

Of course, microorganisms are constantly changing and evolving. New pathogens will continue to emerge as a result of transfers of genetic information, such as pathogenicity islands. Use of the Molecular Postulates will permit identification of new pathogens. New techniques will produce better diagnostic methods and new approaches to control and treatment of infectious diseases.

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