Yersinia pestis is the aetiological agent of plague, a disease of humans that has potentially devastating consequences. Evidence indicates that Y. pestis evolved from Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, an enteric pathogen that normally causes a relatively mild disease. Although Y. pestis is considered to be an obligate pathogen, the lifestyle of this organism is surprisingly complex. The bacteria are normally transmitted to humans from a flea vector, and Y. pestis has a number of mechanisms which allow survival in the flea. Initially, the bacteria have an intracellular lifestyle in the mammalian host, surviving in macrophages. Later, the bacteria adopt an extracellular lifestyle. These different interactions with different host cell types are regulated by a number of systems, which are not well characterized. The availability of the genome sequence for this pathogen should now allow a systematic dissection of these regulatory systems.

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