Colonies of hospital superbugs can make poisons similar to those found in rattlesnake venom to attack our bodies' natural defences, scientists heard today (Monday 8 September 2008) at the Society for General Microbiology's Autumn meeting being held this week at Trinity College, Dublin.
The toxins are manufactured by communities of the hospital superbug Pseudomonas aeruginosa called biofilms, which are up to a thousand times more resistant to antibiotics than free-floating single bacterial cells.
"This is the first time that anyone has successfully proved that the way the bacteria grow either as a biofilm, or living as individuals affects the type of proteins they can secrete, and therefore how dangerous they can potentially be to our health," says Dr Martin Welch from the University of Cambridge, UK.
"Acute diseases caused by bacteria can advance at an astonishing rate and tests have associated these types of disease with free-floating bacteria. Such free-floating bugs often secrete tissue-damaging poisons and enzymes to break down our cells, contributing to the way the disease develops, so it is natural to blame them. By contrast, chronic or long-term infections seem to be associated with biofilms, which were thought to be much less aggressive," says Dr Welch.
The research team's findings are very important to the NHS, which spends millions of pounds every year fighting chronic long-term bacterial infections which are incredibly difficult to treat.
"For example, these chronic infections by bacteria are now the major cause of death and serious disability in cystic fibrosis patients which is the most common lethal inherited disease in the UK and affects about 8,000 people," says Dr Welch.
In cystic fibrosis the gene defect means that people are very susceptible to a particular group of opportunistic bacteria including Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is one of the three major hospital superbugs. Aggressive an
|Contact: Lucy Goodchild|
Society for General Microbiology