Unveiling the Hidden World: A New Bacterial Species Found in a Londoner’s Heart

A New Bacterial Species Found in a Londoner's Heart
A New Bacterial Species Found in a Londoner's Heart

In a startling revelation, researchers at a London hospital have unearthed a previously unknown bacterial species residing in the heart of a 55-year-old patient. The discovery, detailed in the Clinical Infection in Practice journal, sheds light on the mysterious fever that led the shepherd, hailing from Canterbury, to seek medical attention.

The patient, who had received a heart stent seven months earlier, was admitted to St Thomas Hospital with an unexplained fever. Initial blood tests indicated an infection involving two bacterial species, one of which remained unidentified through conventional laboratory testing. To unravel this microbial mystery, scientists turned to a cutting-edge nanopore sequencer, a technology known for rapidly analyzing DNA.

Published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, the results unveiled a novel species of Variovorax, a group of bacteria typically found in soil. This unprecedented discovery occurred within the patient’s aorta, the vital artery responsible for circulating oxygenated blood throughout the body.

A New Bacterial Species Found in a Londoner's Heart
A New Bacterial Species Found in a Londoner’s Heart

Specialist Registrar Lara Payne at St Thomas’ Hospital speculated on the source of the infection, suggesting a likely contraction during lambing season or while administering anti-parasite medications to the patient’s flock of 1500 sheep—activities performed without gloves. The shepherd’s chronic dermatitis, developed during busy lambing periods, served as a potential entry point for environmental pathogens.

The newfound bacteria, named Variovorax Durovernensis after the Latin name for Canterbury, marks the first instance of this particular Variovorax species causing human pathology. The researchers emphasize the significance of maintaining an open mind when interpreting clinical results, acknowledging the possibility of “atypical” infections in certain environments.

Commenting on the groundbreaking use of nanopore sequencing, Adela Alcolea-Medina, a researcher at King’s & Next Generation Sequencing Lead at Synnovis, highlighted its application in clinical practice. This technology, already employed to identify microbes causing severe pneumonia, enables personalized and targeted antibiotic treatments, revolutionizing patient care in intensive care settings.

The article also discusses the potential future adoption of nanopore sequencing in hospitals, offering a faster and more user-friendly alternative to traditional sample analysis in specialist laboratories. Dr. Luke Blagdon Snell, a clinical research fellow at King’s College London, anticipates that increased use of this technology will likely unveil more new microbes and their interactions within the human body.

As the prevalence of “atypical infections” rises, the ability to promptly identify and understand novel bacterial species holds the promise of quicker, more targeted treatments for patients. This groundbreaking discovery opens doors to a deeper understanding of microbial interactions and paves the way for advancements in healthcare practices.


  1. Clinical Infection in Practice journal
  2. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology

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