A FRESH analysis of genes linked to disease, show the threat from new superbugs is far greater than feared

Lab discoveries of single mutations that increase infectiousness have quadrupled since 2015 and more are ‘one step away’ from becoming dangerous, according to the team behind the world’s only specialist database on disease-causing genes in microbes.

The scientists, led by Rothamsted Research, said there has been a sharp rise in ‘hypervirulent’ strains of disease-causing bacteria, fungi and water moulds. These include the microbes responsible for human diseases like TB and salmonellosis, as well as crop diseases of fruit, vegetables and cereals.

Writing in the journal Nucleic Acids Research, the team reported that the number of hypervirulence genes has risen from 112 in 2015, to 475. Hypervirulence now accounts for almost 5% of all database entries.

Plant pathologist, Dr Kim Hammond-Kosack, who oversees it, said: “The increasing number of hypervirulent interactions indicates that scientists have identified many new factors occurring during infection. These genes need close monitoring if we are to halt the emergence and spread of severe disease outbreaks.”

The team identified an increasing effect from climate change, human migration, and the global trade of fresh goods on the rise of disease problems.

The UK's economic burden from infectious disease is estimated at £30bn annually.