COLLEGE STATION, Texas, April 25, 2011 - Call them the Jason Bournes of the bacteria world.
Going "off the grid," like rogue secret agents, some bacteria avoid antibiotic treatments by essentially shutting down and hiding until it's safe to come out again, says Thomas Wood, professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University.
This surreptitious and elaborate survival mechanism is explained in the online April edition of Nature Chemical Biology, which details the research of Wood and his post doctoral student Xiaoxue Wang along with colleagues Breann Brown, Wolfgang Peti and Rebecca Page of Brown University.
"Through our research, we're understanding that some bacteria go to 'sleep,' and that antibiotics only work on bacteria that are metabolically active," Wood explains. "You need actively growing bacteria to be susceptible to antibiotics. If the bacterium goes to sleep, the antibiotics, no matter what they do, are not effective because the bacterium is no longer doing the thing that the antibiotic is trying to shut down."
It's an alternative method for survival, Wood says, that starkly contrasts the widely studied genetically based approaches utilized by bacteria through which bacteria gain resistance to antibiotics as the result of mutations experienced throughout time. This mutation-free response, however, demonstrates that some bacteria need not mutate to survive external stressors, Wood says.
Instead, when triggered by an external stressor such as an antibiotic, a bacterial cell can render itself dormant by triggering an internal reaction that degrades the effectiveness of its own internal antitoxins, Wood explains. With its antitoxins damaged, the toxins present within the bacterial cell are left unchecked and damage the cell's metabolic processes so that it essentially shuts down, he adds.
It's self-inflicted damage but with a purpose.
"The cell n
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Texas A&M University