Social networking is key to helping bugs spread, study shows

August 5, 2014
Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria co-operate to move across a surface. Credit: Roman Popat, University of Edinburgh

Fresh discoveries about how bacteria co-operate with each other when causing infection could help scientists identify animal diseases that might transmit to people.

Bugs that can co-operate best with each other are most likely to be able to jump to , including humans, a new study shows.

Bacteria interact by releasing molecules to help them adapt to their – for example, when killing competing infections in their victim. They co-ordinate these actions by releasing tiny amounts of chemicals as signals.

Bacteria that can co-operate to create an environment in which they can thrive are potentially able to infect lots of different species, including humans. Discovering why some diseases are better equipped to infect more species than others – and therefore could affect humans – could be valuable in predicting and managing .

Most new infections arise from diseases that transmit from animals to humans. Many of these cause serious infections and are difficult to control, such as anthrax and the superbug MRSA.

Research led by the University of Edinburgh used a combination of mathematical models and scientific analysis of genetic code in almost 200 types of bacteria. They found that those bugs that carry lots of genes that help them to co-operate are best equipped to adapt to various environments.

Dr Luke McNally of the University of Edinburgh' School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: "Humans have been able to colonise almost all of their planet by collectively modifying the environment to suit themselves. Our study shows bugs try to do the same – co-operation is important for the spread of to new species."

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Explore further: Animals now picking up bugs from people, study shows

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Secrets of a heat-loving microbe unlocked

September 4, 2015

Scientists studying how a heat-loving microbe transfers its DNA from one generation to the next say it could further our understanding of an extraordinary superbug.

Plants also suffer from stress

September 4, 2015

High salt in soil dramatically stresses plant biology and reduces the growth and yield of crops. Now researchers have found specific proteins that allow plants to grow better under salt stress, and may help breed future generations ...

Ancient walnut forests linked to languages, trade routes

September 4, 2015

If Persian walnut trees could talk, they might tell of the numerous traders who moved along the Silk Roads' thousands of miles over thousands of years, carrying among their valuable merchandise the seeds that would turn into ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.