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Bacteria are the most abundant form of life on Earth. The ocean is highly abundant with small particles and debris, some inert, some highly nutritious. But researchers want to know how bacteria differentiate between these surfaces, how they hold onto them in moving water, and how they recognize each other so that they can work together.
The cholera bacterium Vibrio cholerae infects the small intestine, causing diarrhea and severe dehydration. It lives in salty water, such as seas, oceans and estuaries, attaching itself to the shells of crustaceans. These exoskeletons are composed of a sugary polymer called chitin, and provide a rich source of food for the cholera bacterium—allowing it to grow and survive in the environment.
V - Cholerae - Appendage - Bit - Grappling
To do all this, V. cholerae uses an appendage that's "a bit like a grappling hook,"' says lead researcher David Adams. "The idea is that bacteria can throw out these long ropes, hook onto something, and reel it back in."
These lines are actually the product of highly versatile nano-machines known as type IV pili, which are used by many bacterial species for motility, sensing surfaces and sticking to them, and even taking up DNA from neighboring bacteria. Consequently, type IV pili are considered critical for the environmental survival and pathogenesis of not just V. cholerae, but a wide range of bacteria.
Course - Decade - Group - Melanie - Blokesch
Over the course of the last decade or so, the group of Melanie Blokesch established that V. cholerae produces these DNA-uptake pili only when growing on chitinous surfaces, and showed that they are essential for DNA uptake. But how they function and what else they might be capable of doing has remained somewhat...
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