If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?

You would if you were bacteria. Read more to see why this may help antibiotics work more effectively.

I want more candy!
You’re lying, right?
My brain hurts!

Why are bacteria jumping off bridges?
Bacteria can’t actually jump off bridges (or jump at all), but they do follow their friends into germination.

What is germination?
Bacteria (along with fungi like mushrooms and molds) form spores when times get tough. (I wish I could be a spore until these tough economic times are over!) Spores have a tough outer shell that allows them to withstand a variety of adverse conditions including drought, low nutrients, and antibiotics. When good conditions return spores begin growing again. This process is known as germination.

How do bacteria know their friends are germinating?
Growing bacteria of this kind constantly shed little bits of themselves from their cell wall. These little bits are called peptidoglycan. Spores can detect these bits of peptidoglycan. Once the spore knows that other bacteria are growing, they start growing too. I guess they figure that if the other bacteria are growing then the good times must be back!

So why do I care?
Spore are immune to some antibiotics. So while all the growing bacteria in an infection will be killed by the antibiotic, spores can hang out, and then start growing once the antibiotic is gone. Most of the time your body can deal with the small number of left over bacteria, but in immuno-compromised patients these bacteria can be a serious problem. Now that we know that this signal exists we may be able to exploit it, either by making an antibiotic that will kill spores too, or by tricking the spores into germinating so that current antibiotics will kill them off!

THE BOTTOM LINE Bacteria follow their friends to know when to grow. This is good news for us humans since we can find new ways to stop bacteria from growing!

A news article with a few more specifics of the bacteria
Another news article to read more about the bacteria
Original article abstract from the study

Photo by Oliver Tan Mejia

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