Bacteria on a surface wander around and often organize into highly resilient communities known as biofilms. It turns out that they organize in a rich-get-richer pattern similar to many economies, according to a new study by researchers at UCLA, Northwestern University, and the University of Washington. The study, published online on May 8, 2013 in Nature, is the first to identify the strategy by which bacteria form the micro-colonies that become biofilms, which can cause lethal infections. The research may have significant implications for battling stubborn bacterial infections that do not respond to antibiotics. Bacteria in biofilms behave very differently from free-swimming bacteria. Within biofilms, bacteria change their gene expression patterns and are far more resistant to antibiotics and the body's immune defenses than individual, free-swimming bacteria, because they mass together and are protected by a matrix of proteins, DNA, and long, chain-like sugar molecules called polysaccharides. This makes seemingly routine infections potentially deadly. Dr. Gerard Wong, professor of bioengineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, member of the California NanoSystems Institute, and professor of chemistry and biochemstry at UCLA; Erik Luijten, professor of materials science and engineering and of applied mathematics at Northwestern University; and Matthew R. Parsek, professor of microbiology at the University of Washington, led a team of researchers that elucidated the early formation of biofilms by developing algorithms that describe the movements of the different strains of the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa and by conducting computer simulations to map the bacteria's movements. P. aeruginosa can cause lethal, difficult-to-treat infections, including those found in cystic fibrosis and AIDS patients.
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