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Engineered bacteria can make the ultimate sacrifice
Date:11/20/2012

of two modules, into the bacteria. If the "suicide module" is active it leads to the rupture and death of some bacterial cells when they are challenged with the antibiotic 6-aminopenicillanic acid. If the "public good" module is expressed, a modified form of the enzyme beta-lactamase is produced, which protects surviving cells from rupture or lysis by breaking down the antibiotic. This protection only occurs when the enzyme is released from inside the bacterial cells that make the ultimate sacrifice and die after rupture.

"Our results clearly demonstrate that it is possible to have conditions where the death of some bacteria confers an advantage for the overall population of bacteria," remarked You. "The optimal death rate for the bacterial population emerges after sufficient time has passed and is clearly visible in our system."

The scientists were also able to provide a possible explanation for the "Eagle effect", an unexpected phenomenon where bacteria appear to grow better when treated with higher antibiotic concentrations. "Overall our results fill in a conceptual gap in understanding the evolutionary dynamics of programmed bacterial death during stress and have implications for designing intervention strategies for effective treatment of bacterial infections with antibiotics," concluded You.


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Contact: Barry Whyte
barry.whyte@embo.org
European Molecular Biology Organization
Source:Eurekalert  

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