BACTERIOPHAGES can help bacteria develop new functions by revealing their hidden potential, according to a study from Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. The findings should lead to a better understanding of bacterial mechanisms and potentially how infection and antibiotic resistance develops.
Bacteriophages infect and kill 15–30% of all bacteria in the world’s oceans each day. In this new research, the team studied how these organisms can instead help the Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacterium survive and develop new functions.
After removing an essential gene called ilvA from E. coli, the researchers tested whether the bacterium could be saved by bacteriophage genes that were isolated from a pond in Uppsala. They identified a group of genes that code for the S-adenosyl methionine (SAM) hydrolase enzymes; these enzymes boost the biosynthesis of a precursor to SAM, the amino acid methionine, by breaking down SAM. The team then observed a side reaction in one of the enzymes which enabled the E. coli to compensate for the missing ilvA gene.
“We found a new, unexpected mechanism whereby genes from bacteriophages enable bacteria to use their hidden potential and establish a new function,” commented lead author Dr Jon Jerlström-Hultqvist, Uppsala University.
The study shows that the hidden potential of bacteria can be unveiled when its metabolic state is changed, such as during bacteriophage infection, leading to new functions being established. Therefore, to properly understand how bacteria work and cause infections, functions aside from the ones normally associated with bacteria need to also be investigated.
“The new function in this study is that these bacteriophage enzymes have the ability to break down an important cell component (SAM) of the bacterium. When this component breaks down, the bacterial cell resets its metabolism and a new function becomes available. Moreover, it is very important to understand the hidden potential of bacteria and whether it can affect the development of antibiotic resistance and its pathogenicity,” explained head of the study Prof Dan Andersson, Uppsala University.
James Coker, Reporter
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