Bacterial Conversations in Cystic Fibrosis

Health and Medicine

Health and Medicine

Bacterial Conversations in Cystic Fibrosis

For the first time, scientists determine the reach of quorum sensing in an infection

By
A. Maureen Rouhi | May 31, 2018
• Atlanta, GA

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“A large part of my research is thinking about how bacteria communicate,” says Sophie Darch. The postdoctoral researcher works with School of Biological Sciences Professor Marvin Whiteley, studying the social lives of bacteria.

Darch observes the conversations of bacteria, which take place via molecules they release into the environment and are sensed by other bacteria. In Darch’s experiments, completed messages are marked by the red-to-green change in the color of the bacterium sensing the molecule.

By sending and receiving extracellular signals, bacteria sense their neighbors. When enough bacteria are in the conversation, things happen. Sometimes it leads to changes in virulence or ability to establish an infection. The phenomenon is called quorum sensing.

Yet little is known about how quorum sensing proceeds during infection “Much of what is known about quorum sensing,” Darch says, “comes from studies of large populations of bacteria in an environment that does not compare with the natural infection site.” In infections, for example, bacteria are often found in small, dense clusters, called aggregates. “It’s really important for us as scientists to think about what bacterial growth looks like in an infection,” Darch says.

In a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Darch, Whiteley, and colleagues describe for the first time how close bacteria need to be to “talk” with each other in an environment similar to an infection. Their findings could reveal new ways to disrupt bacterial signaling and provide other targets to treat infections.

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Human Frontiers Science, and the Welch Foundation.

Cystic Fibrosis Model

The study uses an environment similar …

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