Bacterial Communication Holds Key to Fighting Drug Resistance


Dominant groups of bacteria create molecules to become dormant when enough nutrients are not available.

A newly-discovered mechanism allows bacteria of the same species to interact and become dormant when its survival is jeopardized, according to a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

These findings suggest that slowing infections by changing the messages sent between the bacteria could allow the body to better attack pathogens without resulting in drug resistance.

“Bacteria are intelligent little organisms. They can survive almost anywhere and quickly adapt to new conditions,” said study co-author Satish Nair, PhD.

When bacteria compete for resources, the dominant group will secrete an antibiotic to kill the other bacteria, according to the study. When the number of bacteria surpasses the nutrients needed to survive, the group secretes a molecule that instructs it to become dormant, yet remain virulent. This molecule allows for slower growth until there are more resources available and may be useful in the fight against drug resistance.

“Ever since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, we have been using antibiotic molecules developed by 1 microorganism to kill another microorganism,” Dr Nair said. “Unfortunately, the bacteria have quickly adapted to resist antibiotics, and in a short time, antibiotics will be ineffective.”

Antibiotic resistance is on the rise around the world, with many blaming the misuse and overuse of the drugs. Bacteria also play a role in resistance, as they are able to adapt easily.

“On average, nearly every species of bacteria is resistant to at least 1 antibiotic. Two years ago, researchers in Europe and Asia discovered a so-called superbug that is resistant to all known antibiotics,” Dr Nair said. “Bacteria can share adaptations very easily, and there are so many bacteria with different adaptations to share, which is why they can develop resistance so quickly.”

Currently, researchers have been searching for novel ways to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These findings may present a way to successfully develop strategies against antibiotic resistance.

The new study targets the communication that bacteria uses to slow growth opposed to the signal to kill. The authors said that understanding how the bacteria slow their growth can lead to techniques that disrupt the normal communication of bacteria, according to the study.

This process would likely not lead to drug resistance, as dormancy signals are naturally occurring; however, more research is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

“We don’t need to kill bacteria to treat disease and infection; we can just slow them down and make them less potent,” Dr Nair concluded “That way, there is little chance for any resistance to develop.”

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