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What You Should Know / April 22, 2011 -- Salmonella and its pathogenic bacterial kin don't look that much different from the legion of bacteria in our gut that we blissfully ignore, which raises the question: What decides whether we react or don't? Researchers have pondered this paradox for decades. In the case of a common "friendly" gut bacterium, Bacteroides fragilis, Mazmanian and his colleagues have figured out the surprising answer: "The decision is not made by us," he says. "It's made by the bacteria. Since we are their home, they hold the key to our immune system." What's more, the bacteria enforce their "decision" by hijacking cells of the immune system, say Mazmanian and his colleagues, who have figured out the mechanism by which the bacteria accomplish this feat -- and revealed an explanation for how the immune system distinguishes between beneficial and pathogenic organisms.

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