Epidemiology, genetics and molecular biology of a virulence-associated bacteriophage of Chalamydia pneumoniae

Dr. Karuna P. Karunakaran is exploring a mystery around how Chlamydia pneumoniae (an infectious bacteria) is implicated in atherosclerosis (hardening of the inside of the arteries). While a strong link has been established between C. pneumoniae and atherosclerosis, 60 to 80 per cent of the adult population is infected with the bacteria with no apparent ill effects. One explanation may be that some strains of the bacteria are more capable of causing vascular disease than others, due to genetic variation. In fact, one strain of C. pneumoniae has been shown to contain a bacteriophage, a virus that infects bacteria and integrates itself into the genetic code. Preliminary studies have indicated a strong association between vascular disease and the presence of this strain. Karuna is studying the biology of the implicated bacteriophage, and hopes to identify the strains of C. pneumoniae that may cause vascular disease. This may lead to effective design of a vaccine to combat vascular disease caused by infectious bacteria.