UC San Diego Researchers Uncover Key To Bacterial Communities’ Survival
Tiny living organisms without trains or nervous systems, might be putting capable of adapting quickly to outside threats but that's just what bacteria can do. Colonies of bacteria develop resistance to drugs designed to kill a. The fact that bacteria can develop resistance have been known but how they do it has remained a mystery. Researchers have studied bacterial colonies and come up with amazing answers. It seems that the bacteria have the ability to resolve the competing interests of individual cells to secure the survival of the entire committee. Trinity to discuss at the finding are my guests. Gurol Suel, associate molecular biology professor, UC San Diego, He headed the research details in today's online application. Professor Stanley Maloy, dean, SDSU College of Sciences, thank you for joining us. It sounds fairly exchange to tribute behavior of this kind to bacteria. 80 you can tell us about the curious survival of biofilm. What is that? It's very interesting because bacteria are known to be unit cellular organisms. They can survive on their own. In nature, almost all exists in communities. Were recently come to appreciate the bacteria live in communities just like people live in societies and cities. Begin to understand that when bacteria are in communities, they behave very different way. The biofilm is a structured community just like the city. Is a city bacteria with a lid tightly packed in close quarters. Where would you find this kind of biofilm on a human body? Almost anywhere. If anybody is not driving they can take their index finger, touch their bras and look at the index finger, Nancy bacteria that can form biofilms there. Many people also know we have plaques on the teeth, those are also biofilms. There are approximately 10 to 100 times of bacteria and most reside in our digestive system. You carry with you millions of bacteria in these committees go there live on your scam -- scan, pretty much all of her. It's highly resistant to chemicals and antibiotics. It's because of how the Konnie interacts. It's a long-standing puzzle. Deeply outside the biofilm, once inside there are 1000 times more resistant to antibiotics. This is not because of some mutations or genetic changes but we figured out because when these bacteria live in these tight quarters, they face social conflict just like we would living in the city. It appears that part of their resistant is because they figured out a way, without having any brains, to resolve their social conflict and be stronger as a community. The needs of the bacteria on the outer edges of the community are different committees at the bacteria inside the community. How do they resolve the balance those conflicting needs? Basically we had a medieval castle. There's the bacteria on the periphery and they man the walls and protect everybody on the inside. The ones on the outside, when there's an attacked it will come from the outside, they will get hit hard. Their job is almost to absorb this hit so the ones on the interior, survived. That's important for the survival of the clan. Or the outer cells protect the interior by providing layers and layers of protection around them like the Secret Service around the president, they are also consuming food. They need to eat, grow and be alive. The food also comes from the outside. That means of the protective cells on the outside get first dibs on the food coming in and if they consume all the food, they leave nothing left of for the ones on the inside and they become to start. They could starve to death which would not be good at the population level because you what your clan to survive. If the cells are protecting killing them by serving them, it's no good. How did you measure this interaction? We were very interested in doing quantitative research which means we like to measure things carefully. We came up with a way to measure biofilms in a device that had been used this type of measurements. These cutting edge technology to really carefully measure how this community grows. We saw once in a while the committee would stop growing. Which is strange. We think the bacteria like to grow. They would stop growing and we figured out what's going on is when the bacterial colonies stops going, it means the cells on the outside consume less read a lot more food to get in to the interior cells and that ensures the survival of the committee. They are taking turns. Once in a while, the interior cells can send a signal to the outer cell saying you're starting me. You're going into much, slow down. The outer cells slow the growth and interior cells get a break. You pointed out this is not something bacteria think about or have a plan. How and why does this happen? Is called an emergent phenomenon. An analogy would be if you think of a water molecule, you can look at a water at them and see it's going to vibrate the change the temperature where you go from liquid to solid, if you look at that when a single water item you see not much difference. If you look at many water molecules you see they will interact with each other and form eyes if the temperature gets to call. There's no intelligence, it's just the interactions are so complex that a certain size of the system, the behavior changes. The same thing happens with bacteria. Bacterial colony gets large not you have problems with consumption and diffusion of the food to the interior and that induces the social complex between cooperation but they also compete with each other. This social conflict emerges only when you have a big city for the bacteria. Get professor Stanley Malone in on this. What is your reaction to the new research? It's a very interesting. So much research is focused on single cells and it misses out on a really important part of science and misses out on important applications, how we can develop new ways that will hit these bio forms and potentially destroy pathogens in biofilms or how we can enhance the growth of biofilms for beneficial groups. Give us a little one-to-one on this. Scientists have been surprised for years about the resilience of bacteria. Give us an idea how quickly that can happen. Bacteria can adapt quickly. There are two things we have to think about. When they are biofilms, they are resistant to the antibiotics but they are not having a genetic change. It's almost like they are in bomb shelters as you can bomb out the neighboring surrounds and they will survive. As soon as you quit bombing they can, and we grow again. There are the bacteria that have a change in their genes and develop resistance. There are so many bacteria and they grow so quickly that can happen in real time. Almost every new antibiotic that comes on the market within two and five years, we see resistance develop what influences clinical medicine. Bacteria that actually genetically mutate in order not to be killed, but antibiotic that is attacking them, that's the kind of arterial resistance usually talk about the That's what we normally think about. If you are patient, it doesn't matter which type of resistance it is. It's still a real threat to your help -- health. This is a tremendously important problem right now. The president started to focus on antibiotics that includes these biofilms investing $1.2 billion in this sounds like a lot of money but every year is estimated the cost in the US for antibiotic resistance is about 55 $55 billion. By a famous part of that? It's a very important part. About three quarters of all clinical infections are caused by biofilm. They are the major troublemakers People pick those up in hospitals. Biofilms can grow on basically every type of service that includes a living and then living. Catheters and surgical equipment. They are very tactic would have. How to hospitals try to get rid of them now? Their various techniques like exposing them to radiation and you've. These high temperature, all these different types of techniques. It's amazing because they are living on a planet that is dominated by bacteria. There's approximately 100 times more bacteria on our planet than stars in the universe. The human body itself contains more bacteria than human cells. About 3.5 billion years give or take. They have had a long time to have incredibly clever techniques they survived the extension that killed the dinosaur. Survived many other mass extinctions. Human activity has affected a lot of different types of species, not so much for bacteria. They are around and I can guarantee a new matter what were going to do they will still be around. Before now, not much was understood about biofilm bacteria colonies actually managed to resist ways of trying to kill and get rid of them. That would be a strong statement. There's lots of colleagues that have been working on this for decades. We're just contributing to the understanding. We discovered something different than people have focused on before, we uncovered social conflict. It's very exciting for us because it shows us how simple bacteria figured out if they can get along in a community it increases the benefit of the community. We have people in cities who do different things, police officers, bakers, hospitals. Everybody has a job. That helps revive and increase our economy. But at the same time we go to the supermarket, we compete the same parking spots. If we all use electricity too much, there will be a power outage. We have to figure out a way to cooperate and learn how to compete. By the very nature we lived together, we compete. We become strong as a society. Bacteria figured this out billions of years ago. They are doing something we teach our kids. Imagine you have one plan to kids, you say take turns. It seems the bacteria take turns in terms of eating food. First the outer cells, then the inner cells. By doing this, they built a bomb shelter in a sense. There keeping the interior cells from being suffocated. If you build a bomb shelter that food and oxygen can't get in, you will be dead any year. Regardless of whether it's being bombed or not. Bacteria have found a way to build a shelter but not*. Professor. Malloy, you had your own brush with antibacterial resistance -- drug-resistant bacterial infection I have studied bacteria and anybody resistance for a long time. About a month ago I got a serious cut in my leg go within a week, I was in the hospital, I had to go through a course of nine different antibiotics included IV antibiotics to get to the bacteria. They are in one of these really hidden places in the body where despite the high level antibiotics, he couldn't get to bacteria. Luckily, they got to it. Once the end got it does its job, within 24 hours you feel better. There many times doctors are facing with it don't work, they use one antibiotic after another anticipate the infection. One of the complaints I have heard is it's difficult to get pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics cousins too expensive are very limited use. Is they really important point. Those companies are large enterprises that have a focus on mass products. In contrast, they're not good at taking concepts like this and moving it into a new product. Was really good at that are the small biotech companies like we have so many of in San Diego. They can take an idea from the university, helped turn into a product and turn it over to big pharmaceutical goal company. Basically deliver the product. I am thinking of doing that. If there's some kind of application that comes out from our research we would love to see it come to fruition. UCSD has filed a patent on our behalf. We think there might be an alternative way to cope with these biofilms. It's an interesting little bit strange approach because if you allow the biofilm on the outside to grow which seems counterintuitive, if you let them keep growing, it will start the interior cells. They will do the very tricky job for us because just as pointed out, it's difficult to get antibiotics to the protected cells of these biofilms. If we can somehow use of the knowledge we are extracting from our experiments which tells us there's a social conflict, if we can manipulate that such that we can increase the competition, now the peripheral cells just keep eating and soon the interior cells will die. It will be much easier for us to use any type of more standard approach without having to use extremely high concentrations. Just kill the outer cells and we don't have to worry about the protected cells because they are already dead. That is counterintuitive. Based on your research, it sounds like there's a chance that something like that would work. You have made these analogies a number of times in our conversation to the way the bacterial colonies survives. Some bacteria seem to sacrifice for others just to keep the Konnie going. You said this could be translated to the way human beings interact. We thinking about that while doing this research or is it just a convenient way to ask Lane -- explain what's going on. I was always thinking about the bacteria as these organisms. They don't do anything consciously like we do. Without having a brain, they are still Stategies that emerge in biology in nature all the time. It's interesting to observe and think about these aspects even doing basic research. We came at the problem with a new perspective. Realizing we were dealing with individual cells but dealing with a society or community. The relaxation in a community there can be cooperation and competition is not limited to humanist societies. It's all societies from ants, to bees, even bacteria face these same problems and they had enough time to figure out a great solution. Now we can manipulate the solution. I want to thank you both. I have been speaking with Gurol Suel, associate molecular biology professor, UC San Diego and Stanley Maloy, dean, SDSU College of Sciences.
Finding solutions to social conflicts may have helped colonies of tiny living organisms, without brains or nervous systems, thrive, according to new research published by UC San Diego.
A paper published Wednesday in the online publication Nature says that bacterial communities can balance opposing needs of individual cells to secure the survival of the entire community.
Scientists have been studying bacteria colonies that can develop resistance to drugs designed to kill them. The discovery offers a new way to control the growth of biofilms, a community of bacteria, by eliminating the co-dependence of the interior and exterior bacteria, researchers said.
“It’s an example of what we call ‘emergent phenomena,’” said Gurol Suel, associate professor of molecular biology at UC San Diego. “Emergent phenomena are processes that you cannot observe or understand if you are studying individuals. You can only understand the process if you look at the collective.”
Suel, who led the research effort, told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday that these biofilms exist everywhere.
“You would find it almost anywhere,” Suel said. “You carry with you millions and millions of these bacteria.”
UC San Diego has submitted a patent application to license the discovery.