After getting ahold of the genetic blueprints for molecular weapons, relatively harmless bacteria transformed into one that can cause anthrax—in places and animals where the original anthrax bacteria doesn’t. And it’s wreaking havoc.
Using data collected over a 26-year period, researchers found that this strange version of anthrax is running rampant in tropical rainforest habitats of Sub-Saharan Africa, killing off broad swaths of mammals. In fact, researchers estimated this week in Nature that this "rainforest anthrax" could wipe out chimpanzee populations in the Côte d’Ivoire’s Taï National Park within the next 150 years. It’s currently associated with nearly 40 percent of all chimp deaths there. And researchers are just getting started on understanding risks to humans, which have so far been thought to be low.
Among the living
Figuring out the scale and prevalence of this rainforest anthrax will be “critical for mitigating against the detrimental effects” to wildlife and “assessing human infection risk,” the researchers, led by infectious disease expert Fabien Leendertz of the Robert Koch Institute in Germany, conclude.