Microbes’ tricks to kill other bugs may help fight disease

July 26th, 2011 - 1:08 am ICT by IANS  

London, July 25 (IANS) Microbes too employ underhand methods to kill off other bugs, rivals and competitors, and this ability could some day be used to target disease-causing germs, say scientists.

P. aeruginosa, for instance, the bug that infects the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients, deploys a toxin delivery machine to breach competitors’ cell walls and make them burst like an overfilled water balloon.

The bug relies on an inbuilt needle-like puncturing device called the type VI secretion system (T6SS), to do this tricky job, the journal Nature reports.

“Competition among bacteria is brutal and fierce,” says study author Alistair Russell, National Science Foundation fellow at the lab of Joseph Mougous, assistant professor of microbiology, University of Washington, who led the study.

“By killing off competitors, P. aeruginosa widens its territory. Moreover, the better able it is to outlast other bacteria in the environment, the better chance it has of coming in contact with, and colonizing, people,” said Russell.

The study also confirms previous observations of the evolutionary similarity between the T6SS needlelike delivery mechanism and bacteriophage - viruses that infect bacteria.

Russell explained: “We might be able to take helpful bacteria, give them this system genetically, and increase their ability to clear out professional pathogens - those bacteria that make their living causing disease.”

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