A vaccine for chlamydia – the most common sexually transmitted disease in Britain – could be developed after a breakthrough by scientists.
For decades experts have been prevented from fully understanding the bacteria, which if undetected can make sufferers infertile.
But now researchers in Southampton have made a significant breakthrough in accessing the chlamydial genome and believe it could pave the way for more effective treatment of the disease.
They hope that it could eventually lead to the development of a vaccine.
There are more than 100,000 known cases in Britain each year – many of them involving men and women under 25.
The infection is part of a silent epidemic as most cases do not show symptoms and are left untreated.
The infection can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and lead to scarring of the fallopian tubes, causing infertility and higher risk of ectopic pregnancy.
Professor Ian Clarke, from the University of Southampton, said: ‘This is a very significant advance in the study of chlamydia and we are proud to be the first people to achieve this.
‘Previously people have been unable to study chlamydial genetics and this has created a barrier to the comprehensive study of this disease.
‘We, together with our colleagues in Israel, discovered that by treating the chlamydia with calcium ions we were able to introduce a piece of foreign DNA.
‘This will open up the field of chlamydia research and will enable a better understanding of chlamydial genetics. It could lead to the development of new approaches to chlamydial vaccines and therapeutic interventions.’
To prove that they had accessed the chlamydial genome, the research team inserted the gene for a fluorescent protein into C. trachomatis which identified the chlamydial-infected cells by making them glow green.
Their paper detailing the breakthrough in the study of chlamydia is published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Pathogens.