Scientists Crack Genetic Code of Periodontitis Causing Bacteria

Scientists may have taken a major step towards understanding the microbiology of oral bacteria by cracking the genetic code of the bacteria linked to periodontitis. Periodontitis is a gum infection in which the gums react to bacterial plaque build-up with inflammation. This condition causes damage to the bone and soft tissue around the tooth which leads to tooth loss, slow loss of the alveolar bone around the teeth, and a higher risk of a stroke, heart attack, or other serious health concerns. The scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory have isolated the bacteria that cause this condition for the first time with the hope of gaining a better understanding of the genetics of oral bacteria.

SR1 Bacteria

The findings for this research were published in Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences. In their report, the scientists discuss their analysis of the SR1 bacteria, which is present in elevated levels in periodontitis, and their discovery of the genetic code of the bacteria. They discovered that the genetic code of SR1 is quite unique in that the codon UGA acts opposite of its believed role as a stop code and introduces a glycine amino acid. Co-author of the study Mircea Podar of the Department of Energy’s Biosciences Division claims that this finding “is like discovering that in a language you know well there is a dialect in which the word stop means go.”

What This Means

In light of the altered genetic code, researchers believe that the exchange of genes is limited between SR1 and other bacteria and that its genes do not function well with other microbes. Podar believes that this is a result of the exchange of bacteria that “can contribute to increased antibiotic resistance or better adaptation to living in humans.” With this research, the scientists hope that they can gain a better understanding of the microbiology behind periodontitis as well as genetic data from other oral bacteria with an altered genetic code. This is the first time scientists have been able to isolate and cultivate SR1 bacteria in a laboratory.

Currently periodontal disease is treated with a therapy that cleans the teeth and root surfaces and kills germs beneath the gum line.


DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory. \”Insight Into Periodontal Health, Disease.\” Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 20 Mar. 2013. Web.
2 Apr. 2013. <>

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