Bacteria constitute about 90% of all cells in the human body. The densest and most complex bacterial community is in the large intestine. This population is quite stable in healthy intestines, but intestinal disease distorts the ecological balance and induces dysbiosis. Results of studies have indicated that the epithelial and metabolic changes that occur with colorectal cancer provide a competitive advantage to a subset of intestinal bacteria. Strikingly, however, Streptococcus gallolyticus gallolyticus (previously known as Streptococcus bovis biotype I) is one of the very few opportunistic pathogens that has been clinically linked to colonic malignant diseases. In this Personal View we describe how S. gallolyticus gallolyticus exploits its unique range of virulence features to cause infections in patients with colorectal cancer. We postulate that distinct virulence factors on one hand enable this bacterium to establish a symptomatic infection in susceptible individuals, and on the other hand make its ability to do this dependent on pre-existing colonic abnormalities. We believe that our current reconstruction of this route of infection aids understanding of how S. gallolyticus gallolyticus infections can be best exploited for early detection of colorectal cancer.
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