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ETH Zurich study on salmonella self-destruction
Date:8/21/2008

ETH Zurich biologists, led by Professors Martin Ackermann and Wolf-Dietrich Hardt, in collaboration with Michael Doebeli of the University of British Colombia in Vancouver (CN), have been able to describe how random molecular processes during cell division allow some cells to engage in a self-destructive act to generate a greater common good, thereby improving the situation of the surviving siblings.

Survival strategy

The biologists investigated this unusual biological concept using the pathogenic salmo-nella bacteria as an example. Diseases caused by salmonellae are very unpleasant and even life-threatening. When contaminated food is consumed for example, egg-based foods or chicken and meat salmonella bacteria enter the gastro-intestinal tract where it triggers infection. Vomiting and diarrhoea can last for days.

Normally, salmonellae grow poorly in the intestine because they are not competitive with other bacteria of the gut. However, this dynamic changes if salmonellae induce an in-flammatory response, namely diarrhoea, which suppresses the other bacteria. The in-flammation is triggered by salmonellae penetrating into the intestinal tissues. Once in-side, salmonellae is killed by the immune system. This in turn creates a conflict: salmo-nellae are either suppressed by the other bacteria in the gut, or die while trying to elimi-nate these competitors.

As Ackermann, Hardt and Doebeli report, salmonellae have found a surprising solution to this conflict. Inside the gut, the samonella bacteria forms two groups that engage in job-sharing. A first group invades the tissue, triggers an inflammation, then dies. A sec-ond group waits inside the gut until the inactivation of the normal intestinal flora gives them an opportunity to strike.This second group then multiplies unhindered.

Random processes and self-sacrifice

What determines whether an individual salmonella bacterium cell self-sacrifices,
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Contact: Professor Dr. Wolf-Dietrich Hardt
wolf-dietrich.hardt@micro.biol.ethz.ch
41-446-325-143
ETH Zurich/Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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