Scientists discover new "Death Star" weakness in bacterial biofilms
On their own, bacteria aren’t too hard to kill, but get enough of them together and they build protective communities called biofilms. These make it tough to get antibiotics in, leading to further health problems. But now, researchers have found a new weakness in biofilms that could be exploited.
Biofilms are slimy coatings that grow on surfaces over time, as bacteria band together. They often form in water pipes, on your teeth, or in medical implants and catheters. Antibiotics have trouble penetrating the sticky outer layer, meaning that once biofilms take hold in the body they can be hard to get rid of.
But now, researchers at the University of Strathclyde have found a previously unknown weakness. Using a new imaging technology called Mesolens, the team was able to visualize billions of individual E. coli bacteria inside a biofilm, in more detail than ever before. And in doing so, they spotted a network of tiny channels that the bugs use to absorb and distribute nutrients through their community.
The discovery of these channels not only solves the mystery of how bacteria still feed from within these fortresses, but it also presents a new opportunity for sneaking drugs past their defenses.
“The channels take the nutrients from underneath to transport them through the biofilm, whereas traditionally antibiotic treatment would be from above the biofilm,” says Liam Rooney, lead author of the study. “Because we’ve found a secret route into the biofilm from underneath, then potentially we can get the drugs in under the dome to kill the bacteria quicker and more effectively. It’s like a bacterial Death Star.”
For now the idea remains theoretical, so future work will need to investigate whether these channels actually can be exploited to destroy biofilms. In the meantime, other studies have investigated ways to bust them open using microbubbles, hybrid antibiotics, heated nanoparticles, zaps of electricity and even micro-robots.
The research was published in The ISME Journal.
Source: University of Strathclyde