Y: So Don, have you ever had a urinary tract infection?
D: What? That's ... private!
Y: C'mon, Don. It's science.
D: Fine, Yaël. Um, no, I don't think I've ever had one.
Y: Well, you'd definitely know if you had, because urinary tract infections hurt! Many women get one at some point. The infection is cause by bacteria that enter the body through the urethra to colonize the bladder.
D: Y'know, now that you've brought it up, I do wonder how the bacteria manage to stay in the urinary tract...
Y: What do you mean?
D: Well, wouldn't urine rushing down the tract flush the bacteria out of the body?
Y: You'd think so, but scientists at the University of Basel and ETH Zurich have found that when urine flows, the bacteria respond by using a hair‑like fiber with a protein called FimH at its end to hook onto sugar molecules on the surface of cells that make up the inner walls of the urinary tract. The faster the urine flows, exerting more pull on the bacteria, the tighter the protein holds on. When the urine flow stops, the bacteria unhook and continue their journey up toward the bladder.
D: Wow. That's sort of ... diabolical. But also cool.
Y: And potentially useful. If scientists can create a drug that prevents urinary tract bacteria from hooking on during urination, doctors may no longer need to prescribe antibiotics to treat urinary tract infections...
D: Which would be good because the more antibiotics are used, the greater the risk for antibiotic resistance resulting in superbugs immune to even the strongest antimicrobial drugs.Y: Precisely!