Indiana University scientists are hoping new research will help reduce antibiotic resistance in the future. The researchers created a breakthrough process to observe how bacteria acquires information from DNA.
Bacteria cells use hair-like appendages called pili to do a number of things, like latch on to surfaces. But they can also bind to DNA in our environment and collect it.
Scientists had long hypothesized this, but could never witness the process in live cells because the appendages are about 10,000 times smaller than a strand of hair.
Graduate student Courtney Ellison worked as a leader on the study. She says the research team created a method using green dye to color the pili.
“We basically put a chemical structure into the fiber that allowed us to add a dye, and so once we added that dye, they basically just lit up,” Ellison says.
Yves Brun, a distinguished professor of biology, says the research began about four years ago, and the method took about a year to complete. He says seeing the process in a live cell is a game changer.
“Before, we could see these structures, but we had to kill the cells to see them for various technical reasons,” Brun says. “But now we don’t need to kill them, so we can see them in action and seeing them in action is very important to understanding the various steps to a process.”
Ankur Dalia, an assistant professor of biology, says being able to see the process will hopefully help researchers better understand what processes bacteria are taking to become resistant to antibiotics.
“Since we now really understand what the role of these structures are in kind of binding the DNA and taking it up, if someone developed a drug that prevents that retraction or prevents the ability of these pili to function, it would drop the rates of how these bacteria are actually acquiring antibiotic resistance,” Dalia says.
The research was published this week in the journal Nature Microbiology.