JAN 14, 2016 3:38 PM PST

Socialist Bacteria Resist Antibiotics

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Evans
Bacteria are socialists.  That’s according to University of Vermont researchers who identified a new strategy that bacteria use to resist antibiotics.  It’s called “stochastic transient resistance”.

E. coli cells produce a protein called MarA - named for “multiple antibiotic resistance activator”.  This activator controls the expression of nearly 40 genes that contribute to antibiotic resistance.  When certain antibiotics are present, MarA is expressed, producing resistant cells.

Since bacteria don’t know when and where they’ll encounter an antibiotic, the group reasoned that some cells might randomly - stochastically - express MarA even when no antibiotic is present.  Since an entire population of bacteria can regrow from a single cell, you only need a few cells in the population to be resistant at any one time (that’s evidently the socialism part).  According to study author Mary Dunlop, “it's costly from a metabolic standpoint for a cell to express the proteins that enable it to be resistant … this strategy allows a colony to hedge its bets by enabling individual cells within a population to assume high levels of resistance while others avoid this extra work”.
 
Cells fight antibiotics with stochastic transient resistance.

Dunlop and colleagues tested their predictions with a fluorescent MarA reporter.  They exposed cells to carbenicillin and measured MarA levels.  Cells with high levels of MarA at the time they were exposed to carbenicillin survived the treatment.  Likewise, when they overexpressed MarA, the cells survived. They died, however, if the MarA system was disabled in the presence of carbenicillin.

The study also suggests that this resistance mechanism may contribute to persistent infections, especially in patients with chronic conditions like cystic fibrosis.  They suggest that altering the frequency and duration of antibiotic treatments could help clinicians fight such infections.  

Sources: Science Daily, Nature Scientific Reports, UniProt, Wikipedia
 
About the Author
  • Kerry received a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
You May Also Like
OCT 26, 2020
Immunology
Gearing up for Life: The First 7 Days of the Immune System
OCT 26, 2020
Gearing up for Life: The First 7 Days of the Immune System
The mother’s placenta serves as a shield for the developing fetus inside the womb, protecting it from the constant ...
NOV 05, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Painless Microneedle Patch Diagnoses Malaria in Minutes
NOV 05, 2020
Painless Microneedle Patch Diagnoses Malaria in Minutes
It looks like a Band-Aid — a small, adhesive patch that is applied directly to the skin. This simple, low-cost dia ...
DEC 06, 2020
Microbiology
Why is Foot-and-Mouth Disease so Infectious?
DEC 06, 2020
Why is Foot-and-Mouth Disease so Infectious?
There are two diseases with similar names: hand, foot, and mouth disease, which affects people, and foot-and-mouth disea ...
JAN 08, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
How Viruses Keep the Infection Going
JAN 08, 2021
How Viruses Keep the Infection Going
There has long been debate about whether viruses are a form of life, because many of them are only made up of a bit of g ...
JAN 18, 2021
Microbiology
Bacteria in Sediment is Likely Accelerating Greenland's Meltdown
JAN 18, 2021
Bacteria in Sediment is Likely Accelerating Greenland's Meltdown
For decades, scientists have been sounding the alarm about rising carbon dioxide levels in our planet's atmosphere, and ...
JAN 24, 2021
Neuroscience
Is Parkinson's Disease Linked to Gut Fungi?
JAN 24, 2021
Is Parkinson's Disease Linked to Gut Fungi?
Studies show an association between the gut microbiome and Parkinson's disease. Up until now, though, no studies had ...
Loading Comments...