Researchers discover how bacteria 'friending' others wreaks havoc in GI diseases

Cornell scientists have discovered that the bacterial protein VpsT serves as the master regulator in the bacteria Vibrio, which is the cause of cholera and other enteric diseases. This discovery, published in the Feb. 12 issue of the journal Science, provides a major tool to combat enteric disease.

The bacteria Vibrio, which is the cause of cholera and other enteric diseases.
For decades, it has been observed that bacteria engage in biofilm formation in nature and the lab. Like people using the online social network Facebook, free-swimming bacteria ditch the solitary lifestyle to form a biofilm community, but only after they've signaled their intention to do so to others. The protein VpsT receives the invitation and accepts it by starting a cellular program contributing to the process.

"We have the parts list now," said Holger Sondermann, professor at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine. "The next step will be to develop a clear understanding of the triggers and processes that regulate biofilm formation. With this data, we can find opportunities to disrupt the process and find entry points for therapeutic interventions."

Sondermann explained that bacteria hunker down with millions of other bacteria to form a biofilm community powerful enough to fog contacts lenses, rot teeth, corrode metal and cause a host of human and animal diseases. Biofilms have been implicated in numerous chronic infections, including cystic fibrosis, otitis media (infection of the middle ear) and prostatitis. Through interactions within a biofilm, the resident population of bacteria is likely to benefit from increased metabolic efficiency, substrate accessibility, enhanced resistance to environmental stress and antibiotics, and an increased ability to cause infection and disease, says Sondermann.

This new research was co-authored by graduate student Petya Krasteva, first author, and Marcos Navarro, a postdoctoral fellow. The work is a close collaboration with Fitnat Yildiz's laboratory from the University of California-Santa Cruz, including graduate students Jiunn Fong, Nicholas Shikuma and Sinem Beyhan.

The project was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Pew Foundation.

Contact: Susan Lang
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