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Nice Germs Finish Last

Updated on November 19, 2014

Resistant Bacteria Help Their Kin Survive

Super Bug: Some drug-resistant bacteria help their vulnerable counterparts survive antibiotic onslaughts, even at a cost to themselves...
Super Bug: Some drug-resistant bacteria help their vulnerable counterparts survive antibiotic onslaughts, even at a cost to themselves...
Antibiotic resistance is a type of drug resistance where a microorganism is able to survive exposure to an antibiotic
Antibiotic resistance is a type of drug resistance where a microorganism is able to survive exposure to an antibiotic
The primary cause of antibiotic resistance is antibiotic use both within medicine and veterinary medicine.
The primary cause of antibiotic resistance is antibiotic use both within medicine and veterinary medicine.

Altruists Germs

Resistant Bacteria Help Their Kin

Good Samaritans are in our own bodies. James J. Collins, a biologist at Boston University, has found small numbers of drug-resistant bacteria help their vulnerable counterparts survive antibiotic onslaughts, even at their own peril.

Even bacteria occasionally take one for the team. The bugs typically develop drug resistance by acquiring genetic mutations that fend off antibiotics; eventually the survivors and their offspring take over the colony, and the drugs stop working altogether. A new study suggests that resistance can spread in an entirely different way—through altruism. Collins and his colleagues exposed one culture an E- coli colony of with a non-lethal dose of antibiotics. Not surprisingly a few cells carried mutations that allowed them to survive. Rather than taking over the colony, these mutant cells began secreting a molecule called indole, which turns on pumps that push drugs out of the cell. The mutants did not need to produce indole to survive. They were simply working for the greater good.

Altruists at a Cost

The indole production came at a cost to the resistant bacteria. Since they spent energy making the indole, they had fewer resources to use for their own growth and reproduction and grew more slowly than mutants that didn’t produce indole. Somewhat similar to the evolutionary idea of kin selection, the process may ensure survival of the mutants’ relatives.

The findings could spur scientists to develop better antibiotics. If indole allows pathogenic bacteria to withstand antibiotics, it may be possible to thwart drug resistance by blocking indole signaling with small molecules.

Collins notes, “These unicellular organisms can function as a multicellular organism of sorts, thus isolating samples may not be representative of the big picture.

The new findings shed light on the level of complexity and heterogeneity within bacterial strains. Until now, it was assumed that the overall resistance level of any given population was reflected in each of its isolates. Instead, Collins and his team found that dramatic differences can exist within a single population with some bacteria showing exceptional resistance and some almost none, not unlike cancer cells in humans.

The fact that the full complexity of bacteria strains can now be more accurately understood has significant ramifications for the medical community. "Now, when we measure the resistance in a population, we'll know that it may be tricking us," said Collins. "We'll know that even an isolate that shows no resistance can put up a stronger battle against antibiotics thanks to its buddies."

Saeed Tavazoie, a molecular biologist who conducted a study along with graduate student Ilias Tagkopoulos and post-doctoral researcher Yir-Chung Liu, explains, "What we have found is the first evidence that bacteria can use sensed cues from their environment to infer future events."

Doctors May Want to Revise Their Strategies

Doctors may one day want to revise their strategy for avoiding antibiotic resistance in people, perhaps by varying the number of pills taken every day to make it harder for resistance to develop in bacteria.

Related Science Topics of Interest:

http://hubpages.com/hub/Microwave-Hyper-Quanta-Faster-Than-Light

http://hubpages.com/hub/Macroverse-VS-Microverse

http://hubpages.com/hub/The-Concept-of-the-Mind-Directing-Energy-in-Physics-Zero-Point-Energy-Field

http://hubpages.com/hub/What-are-Fractals-Why-Important

http://hubpages.com/hub/Retrocausality-Reverse-Causality-Today-Effects-the-Past

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    • World-Traveler profile image

      World-Traveler 6 years ago from USA

      This is interesting- the information about blocking indole signaling with small molecules. The world is continually evolving in one way or another. One of the greatest concerns to many medical professionals is emerging diseases. Your topic fits right in as an area of interest. Voted UP!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      An interesting topic. I can barely keep up with hoping my dedications work.

    • dallas93444 profile image
      Author

      Dallas W Thompson 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      World-Traveler

      Perhaps, "More than one way to skin a cat!"

    • dallas93444 profile image
      Author

      Dallas W Thompson 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      dahoglund

      Thanks for your comments.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 6 years ago from TEXAS

      I avoid meds very deliberately and especially antibiotics. In the event I really need them in a threatening situation, hopefully they may have some efficacy. However if these bacteria develop mutations in their colonies from other hosts, surely they bring their immunity to antibiotic with them no matter where they lodge. All this serves to support my belief in healthy overall habits and minimizing the chance of needing the meds.

      Of course, short of living in a bubble, I realize it's not always possible.

    • dallas93444 profile image
      Author

      Dallas W Thompson 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Nellieanna

      The Queen of prose! I enjoy reading your thoughtful contributions...

      Your comments:

      " belief in healthy overall habits and minimizing the chance of needing the meds." Are 100% the best advice, or behaviors we can do...

      Thanks!

    • NCBIer profile image

      NCBIer 6 years ago

      Altruism is just one of many phenomenon discovered in "colonies" of bacteria. Scientists are learning more and more about these biofilms and how they act like communities, wherever they are located. The more we learn, the more we realize we have yet to learn. Great hub!

    • dallas93444 profile image
      Author

      Dallas W Thompson 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      NCBler

      Of course you are correct. Your comments indicated you "know" more than the "lay-person." I checked your profile and your hubs clearly reflect your knowledge and understanding. Thanks for the comment. There is more than the "apparent" chemical communication among cells...

    • Enlydia Listener profile image

      Enlydia Listener 6 years ago from trailer in the country

      I have sort of a unique view of antibiotics...I read once that almost all green plants have antibiotic properties...so my thought is using teas made from green plants and always mixing up the combination of them to keep the smart bugs from figuring it out. Also you could do that with essential oils for a topical use...they (the bad bugs) aint so smart...it is just that the pharma people are so dumb...they think using the same old stuff over and over again will work...and the bugs already got their number.

    • dallas93444 profile image
      Author

      Dallas W Thompson 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Enlydia Listener

      The use of and search for drugs and dietary supplements derived from plants have accelerated in recent years. Ethnopharmacologists, botanists, microbiologists, and natural-products chemists are combing the Earth for phytochemicals and “leads” which could be developed for treatment of infectious diseases. While 25 to 50% of current pharmaceuticals are derived from plants, none are used as antimicrobials. Traditional healers have long used plants to prevent or cure infectious conditions; Western medicine is trying to duplicate their successes. Plants are rich in a wide variety of secondary metabolites, such as tannins, terpenoids, alkaloids, and flavonoids, which have been found in vitro to have antimicrobial properties. This review attempts to summarize the current status of botanical screening efforts, as well as in vivo studies of their effectiveness and toxicity. The structure and antimicrobial properties of phytochemicals are also addressed. Since many of these compounds are currently available as unregulated botanical preparations and their use by the public is increasing rapidly, clinicians need to consider the consequences of patients self-medicating with these preparations.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 6 years ago

      Well done hub about a topic that needs to be given more attention. I learned some new things from reading this. You filled me with more knowledge and I appreciate it very much.

    • dallas93444 profile image
      Author

      Dallas W Thompson 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      toknowinfo,

      Thanks!

      We all learn!

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 5 years ago from Central United States of America

      Interesting. And surely there is a lot more to learn! Thanks for great hub.

    • dallas93444 profile image
      Author

      Dallas W Thompson 5 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      frogyfish,

      The use of antibiotics is like setting a forest on fire to get rid of weeds... It wreaks havoc to our bodies. It takes up to two - three years for us to recover.

      An interesting note: When the "bugs/germs" from obese people's stomach are placed into thin people's stomach, they get obese...

      Bugs/germs are us... There is much more to our bio-environment than is known...

      Thanks for your comments!

      I am going to do a hub about our personal ecosystem...

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