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Bacterial Poison Darts

December 16, 2010

Bacteria attack their neighbors using tiny poison darts.


Microbial poison darts…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Bacterial diseases are one of the biggest threats to human health. But some bacteria attack other bacteria as well. UC Santa Barbara microbiologist Stephanie Aoki and her colleagues study a strain of e.coli bacteria that stops the growth of other bacteria upon contact.

STEPHANIE AOKI (UC Santa Barbara):
Envision a porcupine that has quills coming out from its body, in the same way we believe that this particular e. coli has almost stick-kind of structures coming out from its body, and at the very tip of the stick is a little toxic protein and so if the cell comes into contact with another cell that tip breaks off that little toxic tip gets put into the neighboring cell, and when that happens the neighboring cell stops growing.

She says learning how to harness the bacteria’s toxic properties could help lead to the development of better antibiotics. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.