Bacteria have been found to communicate with each other and provide a defense against antibiotics, shielding each other with smaller molecules.
Sometimes, basic lifeforms can surprise us with their complexity. New research from Western University details a new way by which bacteria such Burkholderia cenocepacia can communicate with each other to resist antibiotics. B. cenocepacia is a bacteria which can cause serious problems in patients with compromised immune systems or cystic fibrosis.
Dr. Miguel Valvano and first author Omar El-Halfaway have demonstrated that more resistant bacteria will produce small molecules that they share with less resistant bacteria. These molecules, in turn, help the less resistant bacteria defend against antibiotics. The molecules are produced from modified amino acids and help not only less resistant bacteria of the same type, but provide a widespread shield for many different types of bacteria.
El-Halfaway explains further: “These small molecules can be utilized and produced by almost all bacteria with limited exceptions, so we can regard these small molecules as a universal language that can be understood by most bacteria. The other way that Burkholderia communicates its high level of resistance is by releasing small proteins to mop up, and bind to lethal antibiotics, thus reducing their effectiveness.”
“These findings reveal a new mechanism of antimicrobial resistance based on chemical communication among bacterial cells by small molecules that protect against the effect of antibiotics,” said Dr. Valvano, “This paves the way to design novel drugs to block the effects of these chemicals, thus effectively reducing the burden of antimicrobial resistance.”