Anthrax may be tough, but it gets sick, too

In the Science study, Vos and colleagues show that lytic bacteriophages spark an evolutionary war of adaptation between viruses and bacteria. Lytic viruses within an inch of a bacteria in the soil will soon develop characteristics over a few generations that better enable their ability to infect bacteria which "suggests that phages are ahead of the bacteria in the co-evolutionary arms race."

Vos and colleagues suggest these deadly lytic bacteriophages must play a big role in the survival of bacteria, as well.

"In a sense they verify what we have found with anthrax," Fischetti says, "that these interactions occur at a significant level for most organisms in the soil. While they speculate that these interactions could play a role in bacterial survival, our data shows in detail how these interactions actually change the organism, anthrax in our case, for survival in the environment."

Most remarkably, the PloS One paper confirms a hypothesis first put forward by the pioneering scientists Louis Pasteur, who speculated 130 years ago that anthrax survives in earthworms. "We're really following in the footsteps of Pasteur," Schuch says. "Nobody thought to follow it up until now."

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