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September 28, 2015

Battling Bad Bacteria


Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Bacteria.jpg

Bacteria has been infecting the news lately. From flesh eating bacteria in Florida to the deadly Legionnaires’ Outbreak in New York, it seems as though Bacteria has some pretty bad PR. Bacteria, however, also helps us digest, is a primary ingredient in cheese production, helps with crop management and may be the future of green energy. However, bad bacteria, is what we want to focus on today. The kind that we wish we were killing when we use 99.9% effective hand sanitizer. Science Daily recently posted two articles that have interesting perspectives at how Bacteria affect our bodies and the future for killing bacteria.

First, Ohio State University. The Buckeyes have studied how efficient Bacteria are in attacking our human bodies. An article in Science, in July this year, outlined the deadly patterns of certain bacteria in their war on the human body. The Bacteria in the study attacked certain protein actin causing them to turn toxic to our immune systems. This process has allowed many of the most notorious diseases to spread faster and be harder to cure: Cholera, Septicemia, and similar diseases are affecting the human body by making the proteins “defect” against their own body.  According to Johnson et. al in Molecular Biology of the Cell 5th Edition, actin could be the key to muscular diseases, and some functions of the heart. These internal assaults makes it harder for the immune system to combat bacteria because they reduce the level of contact with the immune system. Read more detail in the study at Bacteria Article.

As has been widely publicized, an increasing number of bacteria are becoming antibiotic-resistant, a problem of huge consequences especially in hospitals where bacteria are rife. Researchers at Rice University are working to identify the mutations that lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The hope is by identifying the routes of mutations, they can be counter-acted faster and allow for continued use of certain antibiotics that would otherwise be deemed ineffective. Using a bacteria and antibiotic combination that is rarely combined, Rice researchers were able to predict the Horizontal Gene Transfer that was used by the bacteria to evolve a resistance to certain drugs. Not only was a single bacterium surviving to become resistant; it was able to take its successful genome and transfer it on to other bacteria cells. This increased the rate of observation of resistant bacteria in the samples beyond a simple paternal exchange of genetic information; the bacteria parents were talking to each other.

Such genetic recoding continues as we look how other bacteria (such as the “good” bacteria, Bacillus subtilis) are redesigning their genetics with Programmed cell death (PCD) in bacteria. This PCD pass from the “mother cell” and serves to aid development, advance genetic variations, and decrease unfavorable mutations. These could be good in the case of yeasts as PCD could be favorable to populations; however, unfavorable in other situations. According to the Author: The concept of programmed death in bacteria prompts us to reexamine a broad range of important yet poorly understood phenomena in the life of microbial cells, such as the mechanism of killing by antibiotics, the role of a low mutation rate, death and survival at stationary state, the nature of persistence, and the related issues of population survival and biofilm resilience. These studies only go to show the world of micro biology is far from being fully understood. We are finding more ways daily how bacteria are attacking us, how it is evolving around antibiotics, and even systematically programming their cell deaths themselves along their own genetic patterns.

We can only hope that we can work harder to think big, by studying small.