A team of Princeton scientists has discovered a key mechanism in how bacteria communicate with each other, a pivotal breakthrough that could lead to treatments for cholera and other bacterial diseases.
The mechanism is a chemical that cholera bacteria use for transmitting messages to each other, known as CAI-1, and has been isolated in the lab of molecular biologist Bonnie Bassler. Her team has shown that the chemical also can be used to disrupt the communication that exists among the bacteria, potentially halting the disease's progress. The discovery could lead to an entirely new class of antibiotics.
"Disease-causing bacteria talk to each other with a chemical vocabulary, and now we can interfere with their talk to control infections," said Doug Higgins, a graduate student in Bassler's lab and first author of the research team's paper on the findings. "This paper specifically concerns cholera, but it provides proof in principle that we can do it with any bacteria."
By exploring how the bacteria's communication informs their group behavior, the team was able to pinpoint a chemical means of sabotaging the conversation. The team's paper appears Nov. 14 in the online edition of the scientific journal Nature.
The findings represent the latest advance in science's attempt to understand the effects of quorum sensing, a relatively new topic in bacterial study. Quorum sensing, which Bassler's lab has explored for more than a decade, concerns the ability of single-celled bacteria to perceive that they are surrounded by a dense population of other bacteria. They communicate their presence by emitting chemical messages that their kin recognize. When the messages grow strong enough, the bacteria respond en masse, behaving as a group.
Some of the group behaviors of these tiny organisms are fairly harmless, such as forming a thin, widely spread colony on a pond's surface -- a colony scientists call a biofilm. These biofilms
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