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Organisms worldwide communicate in their own unique ways: humans use words, bees dance, and fireflies glow. Decoding a community's common language provides the ability to understand and influence the community's behavior.
What if bacteria also have their own language? If we understood that syntax, could we simply ask the bacteria to stop making us sick?
Questions - Core - Hiller - Research - Lab
These questions are at the core of Hiller's research. Her lab is investigating "bacterial linguistics," attempting to identify the "words" that bacteria use to communicate. They hope to assemble a dictionary that will give researchers the vocabulary they need to manipulate deadly pathogens.
The Hiller lab is unraveling how bacterial communication contributes to disease and antibiotic resistance, focusing on the bacterium pneumococcus.
Pneumococcus - Children - Back - Throat - Symptoms
Pneumococcus frequently colonizes children and the elderly. It can inhabit the back of the throat without causing any symptoms, but when it spreads to tissues beyond the throat, it can cause mild to severe disease. Pneumococcus is the leading cause of upper respiratory disease and a common cause of pneumonia and pediatric ear infections. Worldwide, it is responsible for more than one million deaths each year.
Pneumococcus forms and thrives in communities called biofilms. The community provides an environment where cells communicate, cooperate and battle. The biofilm also protects the bacteria from antimicrobial interventions and serves as a breeding ground for antibiotic resistance.
Biofilm - Secretes - Molecules - Communication - Cells
In the biofilm, pneumococcus secretes many molecules that appear to be used for communication -- telling cells to migrate, multiply and adapt. Despite their potential role in the spread of disease, much about these molecular words is a mystery.
"If we know the meaning of bacterial words, maybe we can remove them from the system or manipulate them so pneumococcus doesn't become pathogenic," Hiller said.
PLOS - Pathogens - Study - Biological - Sciences
In the PLOS Pathogens study, Biological Sciences graduate student Surya Aggarwal identified a previously uncharacterized pneumococcal molecule ¬- a new word ¬- he...
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