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
AUG 02, 2020
Microbiology
Examining the Existence of Organelles in Bacteria
AUG 02, 2020
Examining the Existence of Organelles in Bacteria
Cells can be grouped into two general categories: prokaryotic, which make up microbes like bacteria and archaea, or euka ...
AUG 11, 2020
Neuroscience
Gastrointestinal Issues Linked to Behavioral Problems in Children
AUG 11, 2020
Gastrointestinal Issues Linked to Behavioral Problems in Children
Researchers from the University of California, Davis, have found that common gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms like diarrhe ...
SEP 06, 2020
Microbiology
Small Changes in Vaccine Molecules Could Make Them More Effective
SEP 06, 2020
Small Changes in Vaccine Molecules Could Make Them More Effective
Effective vaccines have to trigger an immune response, which is intended to create an immune 'memory' of a specific infe ...
SEP 13, 2020
Microbiology
Amazing Images of the Pandemic Virus SARS-CoV-2
SEP 13, 2020
Amazing Images of the Pandemic Virus SARS-CoV-2
Researchers in the lab of Camille Ehre, Ph.D. at the UNC School of Medicine have created amazing images of the pandemic ...
SEP 28, 2020
Microbiology
The Flu Vaccine Will Not Increase the Risk of COVID-19
SEP 28, 2020
The Flu Vaccine Will Not Increase the Risk of COVID-19
Scientists and clinicians want people to get their flu shots this year, especially because of the ongoing pandemic.
OCT 18, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
'Silent' Mutations Might Have Given SARS-CoV-2 an Edge
OCT 18, 2020
'Silent' Mutations Might Have Given SARS-CoV-2 an Edge
The pandemic virus SARS-CoV-2 is thought to have originated in bats, like many viruses. To make the leap and infect anot ...
Loading Comments...