The plague-causing bacteria Yersinia pestis evades detection and establishes a stronghold without setting off the body’s early alarms but new discoveries reported this week help explain how the stealthy agent of Black Death avoids tripping a self-destruct mechanism inside germ-destroying cells. 

Normally, certain defender cells are programmed to burst if they are either invaded by or detect the presence of pathogens. This host defense mechanism called pyroptosis (“going up in flames”) eliminates places for the germs to reproduce. As it splits open, the cell spills antimicrobial chemicals and emits signals to alert of an attack and its precise location. Tissues become inflamed as more cells arrive to fight the infection. 

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