It all started with a crab apple tree.
Two years ago, a 71-year-old Indiana man impaled his hand on a branch after cutting down a dead tree. The wound caused an infection that led scientists to discover a new bacterium and solve a mystery about how bacteria came to live inside insects.
On Oct. 15, 2010, Thomas Fritz, a retired inventor, engineer and volunteer firefighter, cut down a dead, 10-foot-tall crab apple tree outside his home near Evansville, Ind.
As he dragged away the debris, he got tangled in it and fell. A small branch impaled his right hand in the fleshy web between the thumb and index finger.
A former emergency medical technician, Fritz dressed the wound, which became swollen. Then he waited for a scheduled visit with his doctor a few days later. By then, a cyst formed at the wound site. The doctor put Fritz on an antibiotic after sending a sample of the cyst to a lab.
The pain and swelling persisted and the wound became abscessed.
About five weeks after the accident, an orthopedic surgeon removed several pieces of bark from the wound, which finally healed without further incident.
Only later did Fritz find out that his infected wound contained a previously unknown bacterium that scientists say could be used to block disease transmission by insects and prevent crop damage.
Scientists call the new strain human Sodalis or HS; it's related to Sodalis, a genus of bacteria that lives symbiotically inside insects' guts.
The journal PLOS Genetics published a paper detailing the discovery today.
"Symbiotic interactions between microorganisms and insects are common, and biologists suspect that they're an important driver of biological diversification," says Matt Kane, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research.
"But how such symbioses came to be is often a mystery," Kane say
|Contact: Cheryl Dybas|
National Science Foundation