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Social Bacteria Roundup

September 24, 2010

Some drug-resistant bacteria protect weaker members of their colony.

Transcript

Charitable bacteria. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

As bacteria become increasingly resistant to antibiotics, scientists are taking a closer look at how they do it. Researchers at Boston University and the Wyss Institute at Harvard recently found something completely unexpected: strong, drug-resistant bacteria expending energy to produce chemicals that protect their weaker colony-mates. Understanding how bacteria work as teams will help researchers develop new tactics to defeat them.

On the other hand, not all bacteria help their teammates. British scientists at the University of Nottingham have discovered that some staphlycoccus bacteria act selfishly: while others in their colony produce poisons that kill cells and make people sick, these freeloader staph move into the battle zone and multiply, without producing any toxins of their own. The researchers hope to use these freeloader bacteria, sending them in to compete with the microbes that make us sick. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.