Monday, September 7, 2009

Interesting article about Bacteria

Deep Inside Bacteria, a Germ of Human Personality

Bacteria are the oldest living things on earth, and researchers have long felt that they must lead dull, unfussy lives. New discoveries are starting to show just how wrong that notion is.

For a simple, single-cell creature, a bacterium is surprisingly social. It can communicate in two languages. It can tell self from nonself, friend from foe. It thrives in the company of others. It spies on neighbors, spreads misinformation and even commits fratricide.

"Really, they're just stripped-down versions of us," says Bonnie Bassler, microbial geneticist at Princeton University, who has spent two decades peeking at the inner lives of bacteria. Dr. Bassler and other scientists are using this information to devise new ways to fight infections and reduce antibiotic resistance.

Bacterial society is based on a chemical language called quorum sensing. To detect how many of its own species, or members of another bacterial species, are in the immediate vicinity, each bacterium secretes a certain molecule into the environment. The greater the number of molecules it can sense, the more fellow bacteria it knows are out there.

This is often a trigger to act. Some bacteria will attack a person or any other host only after establishing that there is a quorum -- a large-enough army to overcome the host's immune defenses. The strategy helps explain the virulence of a number of human ailments, including cholera, pneumonia and food poisoning.

Dr. Bassler was the first to identify the molecule that bacteria use to communicate with members of other species. She hopes the finding will lead to a new kind of drug that won't succumb to antibiotic resistance.

Resistance is a serious and growing health risk across the world. It occurs because most antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria. But some bugs survive the attack and pass on their resistant genes to their progeny, strengthening future generations and making the antibiotic less effective.

Instead of killing bacteria, Dr. Bassler wants to simply jam their communication lines -- the quorum-sensing mechanism. She figures that if the bugs can't signal each other, they can't properly assess the size of their growing army and might never attack. Another benefit: Because bacteria aren't killed, the approach could delay the onset of resistance.

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1 people had something to say...:

Sara said...

This reminds me of an article I read somewhere, might've even been here.. on oil droplets of some sort being inhaled into the lung. It was a new nano technology they are testing out that was supposed to kill antibiotic resistant bacteria but it confused me because.. just because some bacteria is resistant to one antibiotic doesn't mean it's resistant to all does it? So couldn't that be potentially hurting you more than helping you? I guess I didn't fully understand it, can anyone expand on this?