Microbe That Thrives in Salt Offers Platform for Salmonella Vaccine

A humble microbe called haloarchaea might be the ideal delivery vehicle for a vaccine against Salmonella, as well as many other enteric diseases, according to researchers at the University of Maryland.

Shiladitya DasSarma, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology in the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine in Baltimore, has received a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to study the vaccine’s efficacy against Salmonella, a particularly troublesome killer of children in the developing world.

Haloarchaea thrives in salt water and has properties that naturally mimic the immune response of vaccines. To develop the Salmonella vaccine, Dr. DasSarma and his team splice Salmonella protein antigens and then envelop the doctored microbe in salt, which allows patients to swallow the vaccine.

“There are two key reasons why this organism can be a very effective platform for vaccination,” Dr. DasSarma said. “First, it produces a highly effective adjuvant, so one gets a very strong and long-lived immune reaction. It’s also incredibly hardy. Because it can actually be delivered inside of salt crystals, it would be possible to have a very stable vaccine that doesn’t require refrigeration, which could be a big development for third-world vaccines in general.”

Dr. DasSarma suggested that the new platform could have far-reaching public health and food safety implications both in the U.S. and abroad. “For foodborne pathogens in the U.S. in general, children are particularly at risk,” he said. “I could see an effective enteric vaccine being part of the solution for U.S. children. But we have a long way to go. New vaccines are a pretty big undertaking, and we’re just in phase I of a multi-year effort.”

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