A new study has clarified the mechanism of single-celled organisms, which could help explain why they resist antibiotic attack and reappear infections after treatment.
About 700,000 people die each year from drug-resistant infections, including tuberculosis, HIV and malaria worldwide.
Dutch researchers have identified a state of survival of previously unknown bacteria: they enter a zombie state, according to their study published in Nature Communications.
How do bacteria defend themselves?
Despite their apparent simplicity, bacteria develop very clever strategies. For example, they may enter a state of lethargy while they wait for the danger to pass. It has been discovered that in addition to activity and inactivity, bacteria have another condition, which resembles the behavior of zombies. This helps them not only survive for long periods without nutrients, but also preserves the ability to reproduce.
In this state, bacteria are not dormant but demonstrate processes that have been reduced to the extreme while still remaining active.
Researchers at the Swammerdam Institute of Life Sciences at the University of Amsterdam have studied in depth the survival strategies of the non-pathogenic bacterium Bacillus subtilis.
Bacteria of this species died of starvation for long periods and the team observed their behavior.
It was known that bacteria form what is known as & endospores & # 39; under stressful conditions, which allows them to sleep & # 39; inside a protective layer, and in the study the samples showed that there are some that could do it as a result of a mutation. .
However, even without becoming inactive, the researchers found that some of them could survive.
This happened thanks to a state, previously unknown, which the team now defines as "Oligotrophic growth"
"Normally, the bacillus is shaped like a cane, but the hungry bacteria shrink until they are almost spherical," said Professor Leendert Hamoen of the Swammerdam Institute, quoted by ScienceAlert. "All kinds of processes normally active in bacteria have changed.
"If it is discovered that more bacteria can pass into this state, this will shed new light on how bacteria can escape from antibioticsamong other things, "concluded the scientist.