Clues to why most survived China melamine scandal

by Lauran Neergaard

(AP)—Scientists wondering why some children and not others survived one of China's worst food safety scandals have uncovered a suspect: germs that live in the gut.

In 2008, at least six babies died and 300,000 became sick after being fed infant formula that had been deliberately and illegally tainted with the industrial chemical melamine. There were some lingering puzzles: How did it cause , and why wasn't everyone equally at risk?

A team of researchers from the U.S. and China re-examined those questions in a series of studies in rats. In findings released Wednesday, they reported that certain play a crucial role in how the body handles melamine.

The intestines of all mammals teem with different that perform different jobs. To see if one of those activities involves processing melamine, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Shanghai Jiao Tong University gave antibiotics to kill off some of the germs—and then fed them melamine.

The antibiotic-treated rats excreted twice as much of the melamine as rats that didn't get antibiotics, and they experienced fewer and other damage.

A closer look identified why: A particular intestinal germ—named Klebsiella terrigena—was metabolizing melamine to create a more toxic byproduct, the team reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Previous studies have estimated that fewer than 1 percent of healthy people harbor that . A similar fraction of melamine-exposed children in China got sick, the researchers wrote. But proving that link would require studying stool samples preserved from affected children, they cautioned.

Still, the research is pretty strong, said microbiologist Jack Gilbert of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, who wasn't involved in the new study.

More importantly, "this paper adds to a growing body of evidence which suggests that microbes in the body play a significant role in our response to toxicity and in our health in general," Gilbert said.

Journal reference: Science Translational Medicine search and more info website

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Melamine-tainted drinks emerge again in China: report

Nov 22, 2010

Authorities in central China are searching for a batch of dairy products containing high levels of melamine, the chemical that killed six babies and sickened 300,000 others in 2008, state media said Monday.

More melamine-tainted milk products found in China

Jan 25, 2010

(AP) -- Melamine-tainted dairy products were pulled from convenience store shelves in southern China more than a year after hundreds of thousands of children had been sickened in a massive milk safety scandal, a government ...

Recommended for you

Growing a blood vessel in a week

Oct 24, 2014

The technology for creating new tissues from stem cells has taken a giant leap forward. Three tablespoons of blood are all that is needed to grow a brand new blood vessel in just seven days. This is shown ...

Testing time for stem cells

Oct 24, 2014

DefiniGEN is one of the first commercial opportunities to arise from Cambridge's expertise in stem cell research. Here, we look at some of the fundamental research that enables it to supply liver and pancreatic ...

Team finds key signaling pathway in cause of preeclampsia

Oct 23, 2014

A team of researchers led by a Wayne State University School of Medicine associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology has published findings that provide novel insight into the cause of preeclampsia, the leading cause ...

Rapid test to diagnose severe sepsis

Oct 23, 2014

A new test, developed by University of British Columbia researchers, could help physicians predict within an hour if a patient will develop severe sepsis so they can begin treatment immediately.

User comments