‘Golden staph’ three species, not one

Golden staph (Staphylococcus aureus) was thought to be a single, well-defined species—until a recent Darwin discovery showing that bacteria with golden staph characteristics are actually three distinct species.


Several years ago Menzies School of Health Research scientists began to notice a genetically unusual golden staph causing skin infections in Aboriginal children.

Golden and silver staph are recognised as distinct species thanks to Menzies School of Health Research scientists. Credit: Phil Giffard
Golden and silver staph are recognised as distinct species thanks to Menzies School of Health Research scientists. Credit: Phil Giffard

That led to two new species of the staphylococcus bacteria being described and accepted as valid. One of these is a silvery, un-pigmented strain, S. argenteus.

This ‘silver staph’ has now been found in human infections around the world. So far the other species, S. schweitzeri, has only been found in bats and non-human primates in Africa.

The discovery was made by Phil Giffard, Steven Tong and Deborah Holt of the Menzies School of Health Research, working with the UK Sanger Institute and Germany’s University Hospital Münster.

“This work has completely changed the understanding of the diversity and natural history of one of the most important pathogens of humans,” Phil says.

“It has clear potential in contributing to the development of new therapeutic agents and managing antibiotic resistance.”

Phil and his team have found the newly discovered strains can become resistant to certain antibiotics by swapping genes with golden staph.

They are now conducting large-scale genetic comparisons of the three species to understand the links between genetic make-up and the potential to cause disease and acquire antibiotic resistance.

For more information: Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, Northern Territory, Phil Giffard, Phil.giffard@menzies.edu.au, www.menzies.edu.au/page/Menzies_30th/Stories/Silver_lining_to_staph_discovery

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