Bacterial slime helps cause serious disease

May 05, 2008

Leptospirosis is a serious but neglected emerging disease that infects humans through contaminated water. Now research published in the May issue of the journal Microbiology shows for the first time how bacteria that cause the disease survive in the environment.

Leptospirosis is a major public health problem in South East Asia and South America, with over 500,000 severe cases every year. Between 5% and 20% of these cases are fatal. Rats and other mammals carry the disease-causing pathogen Leptospira interrogans in their kidneys. When they urinate, they contaminate surface water with the bacteria, which can survive in the environment for long periods.

“This led us to see if the bacteria build a protective casing around themselves for protection,” said Professor Mathieu Picardeau from the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France. Previously, scientists believed the bacteria were ‘planktonic’, living freely in the water. But Professor Picardeau and his team have shown that L. interrogans can make biofilms, which could be one of the main factors controlling survival and disease transmission.

Many different bacteria make biofilms, which protect them against harsh conditions and make them more resistant to antibiotics. They do this by producing a slime, in which the colony can grow unharmed. “90% of the species of Leptospira we tested could form biofilms. It takes L. interrogans an average of 20 days to make a biofilm,” said Professor Picardeau.

This ability may contribute to the long-term survival of the bacteria in environmental water and even help them cause disease in humans. Biofilm formation might also play an important role in keeping the bacteria alive in the kidneys of animals such as rats without causing disease.

“This finding is a step forward in our understanding of Leptospirosis. We now need to study the mechanism of biofilm formation in both fresh water and renal tubules in animal kidneys,” said Professor Picardeau. “We hope our research will lead to the identification of new strategies to diagnose and prevent this neglected emerging disease.”

Source: Society for General Microbiology

Explore further: Lemurs match scent of a friend to sound of her voice

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Seeding success in India turns coconut dust into gold

Apr 10, 2014

Coconut dust may not be fairy dust, but in southern India, the substance is creating healthy crops. A Virginia Tech-led program is showing farmers that the material, derived from husks, is great potting soil ...

A high-tech solution for detecting bacteria in water

Mar 27, 2014

Water quality and safety can never be taken for granted. Every day, millions of tons of inadequately treated sewage, industrial and agricultural wastes are poured into the world's lakes, rivers, and oceans ...

Why bacteria are beautiful, and why we need them

Mar 26, 2014

For every one of the 7 billion people on Earth, up to 10 times that many bacteria have taken up residence in and on them. "We provide a nice home for them," said Nobel laureate Sir Richard Roberts, who was ...

Recommended for you

Lemurs match scent of a friend to sound of her voice

7 hours ago

Humans aren't alone in their ability to match a voice to a face—animals such as dogs, horses, crows and monkeys are able to recognize familiar individuals this way too, a growing body of research shows.

Chrono, the last piece of the circadian clock puzzle?

9 hours ago

All organisms, from mammals to fungi, have daily cycles controlled by a tightly regulated internal clock, called the circadian clock. The whole-body circadian clock, influenced by the exposure to light, dictates the wake-sleep ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Low Vitamin D may not be a culprit in menopause symptoms

A new study from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) shows no significant connection between vitamin D levels and menopause symptoms. The study was published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopa ...

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...