Gilmore and his team have spent years studying the bacterium known as
Enterococcus faecalis, one of the leading causes of hospital-acquired
infections, to find new ways to treat them. These infections are
frequently resistant to many, and sometimes all, antibiotics. Tens of
thousands of deaths due to antibiotic resistant infection occur each
year in the US, adding an estimated $ 4 Billion to health care costs.
Scientist have known since 1934 that especially harmful strains of
Enterococcus produce a toxin that destroys other cells, including human
cells and even other types of bacteria. They also knew that this toxin
was made only under some conditions. Until Gilmore’s study, scientists
were unable to explain how the Enterococcus knew when to make it.
In the Science study, Gilmore and his team found that this toxin is
made whenever there is another cell type in the environment near the
bacterium, such as a human blood cell. They discovered how these
bacteria know when other cells are present, and respond accordingly.
In the laboratory, the team found that Enterococcus releases two
substances into the environment. One substance sticks to foreign cells.
The second substance reports back and tells the Enterococcus to make
the toxin. If no cells are in the area, the first su
bstance sticks to
the second, preventing it from reporting back to the Enterococcus, and
as a result, no toxin is made. According to Gilmore, “These bacteria
are actively probing their environment for enemies or food. Based on
whether or not they ‘see?other cells, they make the toxin
appropriately.?Gilmore says this discovery has several significant implications for
the future. “This is a new mechanism that nature devised to ‘see?the
environment, and based on that information, respond accordingly. We may
be able to learn from nature and adapt a similar strategy to help the
aging population cope with loss of vision,?says Gilmore.
“Secondly, this discovery will help us to develop new ways to treat
infections that are resistant to antibiotics, making them less severe.
Based on an understanding of how this toxin system works, we hope to
develop toxin inhibitors,?says Gilmore.
The third area of interest is currently science fiction, says Gilmore.
“If bacteria can see cells in the environment, maybe we can tame these
bacteria and engineer this system so that it can be used to see other
things in the environment, such as minerals or possibly other
disease-causing bacteria,?says Gilmore.
Source:Schepens Eye Research Institute
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