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How Bacteria Talk to One Another
Seeing bacteria talk: the colours are
molecules used by bacteria to
communicate; © UCSD
The new study shows how bacteria talk to one another – an understanding that may lead to new therapeutic discoveries for diseases ranging from cancer to diabetes and allergies.
In the paper, the researchers describe an approach they developed to describe how bacteria interface with other bacteria in a laboratory setting. They utilised technology called natural product MALDI-TOF (Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization-Time of Flight) imaging mass spectrometry to uniquely translate the language of bacteria.
Microbial interactions, such as signalling, have generally been considered by scientists in terms of an individual, predominant chemical activity. However, a single bacterial species is capable of producing many bioactive compounds that can alter neighbouring organisms. The approach developed by the researchers enabled them to observe the effects of multiple microbial signals in an interspecies interaction, revealing that chemical “conversations” between bacteria involve many signals that function simultaneously.
“Scientists tend to study the metabolic exchange of bacteria, for example penicillin, one molecule at a time,” said researcher Pieter C. Dorrestein. “Actually, such exchanges by microbes are much more complex, involving ten, 20 or even 50 molecules at one time. Now scientists can capture that complexity.”
The researchers anticipate that this tool will enable development of a bacterial dictionary that translates the output signals. In order to communicate, bacteria secrete molecules that tell other microbes, in effect, “I am irritated, stop growing,” “I need more nutrients” or “come closer, I can supply you with nutrients.” Other molecules are secreted that may turn off the body’s defence mechanisms. The team is currently mapping hundreds of such bacterial interactions. Their hope is that this approach will also enable them to translate these bacterial-mediated mechanisms in the future.
Understanding the means by which microorganism cells talk to one another will facilitate therapeutic discovery, according to Dorrestein. For instance, knowing how microbes interact with human immune cells could lead to discovery of novel immune system modulators, and how these molecules control bacterial growth may lead to new anti-invectives.
MEDICA.de; Source: University of California, San Diego Health Sciences (UCSD)