Study Shows Communication Enables Bacteria to Escape Effects of Antibiotics
There is the fear that the world is running out of effective antibiotics against disease-causing bacteria. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have discovered a mechanism that may explain, in part, the growing antibiotic resistance.
The efficacy of otherwise potent antibiotics against bacteria is reducing increasingly across the globe, creating a serious cause of worry. This makes researchers continue their search for more effective treatments and what can be done to enhance existing ones.
The quest by researchers for ways to make antibiotics more effective led to the detection of a mechanism in bacteria that enables them to escape from these substances in the new Danish study.
In the current research, the particular bacteria type examined is Pseudomonas aeruginosa. These organisms commonly infect people with cystic fibrosis.
Scientists found that the bacteria send signals to warn similar organisms when there is a threat. These threats may be viruses, also known as bacteriophages, or antibiotics. Warning signals make it possible for these bacteria to steer clear of dangers.
“We can see in the laboratory that the bacteria simply swim around the ‘dangerous area’ with antibiotics or bacteriophages,” said Nina Molin Høyland-Kroghsbo, assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences. “When they receive the warning signal from their conspecifics, you can see in the microscope that they are moving in a neat circle.”
The observed action is a “smart” survival mechanism for the pathogens, Høyland-Kroghsbo pointed out.
University of Copenhagen researchers carried out this study in collaboration with their counterparts from the University of California Irvine.
Uniting to evade
Scientists in this research looked into bacterial growth and distribution in Petri dishes. The settings were similar to one in which cystic fibrosis, a lung disorder, can develop.
Høyland-Kroghsbo said the response of the microbes to antibiotics and bacteriophages was “quite fascinating” to the researchers.
“You can almost say that they act as one united organism,” she said.
The researcher stated that this evasive tactic if it exists in humans, may aid in understanding why antibiotics do not help much against some bacterial infections.
Breaking down the communication
Høyland-Kroghsbo disclosed that the next focus of research is to find an effective mean of disrupting warning signals bacteria send. The aim will be to find a way of preventing the sending or receipt of these signals.
Infection with Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a serious one. The microorganisms are on the list of bacteria for which more effective antibiotics are currently needed the most, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Researchers in this study hope that their findings on how the bacteria evade threats, such as antibiotics, may help in the drive to fight resistance.
“Infections with this type of bacteria are a major problem worldwide with many hospitalizations and deaths,” Høyland-Kroghsbo said. “That is why we are really pleased to be able to contribute new knowledge that can potentially be used to fight these bacteria.”
The researchers hope that disrupting warning signals will potentially help to boost the efficacy of treatments against the pathogens. However, they admit that the new knowledge will not lead to more effective treatments becoming available any time soon.