Survival of the fittest has served humans and our ancestors well for millions of years. We have developed sophisticated defense mechanisms, like highly specialized senses and immune systems that can thwart many of our greatest threats. And for the things our immune systems can’t defeat, we have developed advanced medical techniques to combat infection and disease.
Of course, we’re not the only creatures capable of adapting. Like all other living organisms, bacteria are constantly evolving. And because they multiply quickly and in large numbers, their rate of change dwarfs our own.
Australian scientists have used a powerful GE microscope to study the spread of slimy, drug-resistant bacterial colonies called biofilms. They have been able to determine how the microbes stick together and move in intricate, self-organized patterns. The research could help doctors fight aggressive infections caused by biofilms colonizing catheters and other medical devices.
“Biofilms are notoriously difficult to clear,” says team leader Cynthia Whitchurch, senior research fellow at University of Technology Sydney. “The bacteria can actively migrate along the surface and move up to the bladder and the kidneys, where they can cause a lot of problems. We are trying to understand how the bacteria coordinate to be able to achieve this migration so we can come up with smart ways to inhibit that.”
A group of physicists and biologists has developed a nanotechnology-based technique that promises to increase the speed and sensitivity of diagnosing Lyme disease, a bacterial condition that infects more than 30,000 Americans each year.
The method, still in the research stage, uses nanotubes – tiny threads of carbon barely visible to the human eye – attached to antibodies that react with particular proteins carried by the bacteria responsible for the disease.
"We’re looking directly for the Lyme organisms," said physicist A. T. Charlie Johnson, who led the multidisciplinary group at the University of Pennsylvania with bacteriologist Dustin Brisson. "This could be very useful in detecting early-stage infection."