Flippable DNA switches help bacteria resist antibiotics and are more common than thought

phys.org | 1/11/2019 | Staff
Mijac (Posted by) Level 3
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Bacteria have a number of well-known tricks available to them to adapt to changing environments, such as mutation and sharing snippets of DNA with each other. Less studied is a mechanism that allows bacteria to hedge their bets against rapid environmental changes by fine tuning their use of particular genes or pathways, a process known as "phase variation."

Phase variation acts through a unique family of bacterial promoters and other gene-regulating DNA fragments called invertons, which can physically flip back and forth in place. When facing forward (relative to the surrounding DNA), these invertible elements turn nearby genes on; when backward, the genes remain off. But little is known about how widespread invertons are within the bacterial world, which bacterial functions they control, and whether an individual person's distinct physiological makeup can affect which invertons bacteria flip on or off.

Science - Team - Researchers - Broad - Infectious

Writing in Science, a team led by researchers from the Broad Infectious Disease and Microbiome Program (IDMP), Massachusetts General Hospital, and the MIT Center for Microbiome Informatics and Therapeutics (CMIT) report that invertons are present in a wide variety of bacteria, make the case that invertons foster antibiotic resistance, and suggest that they may help bacteria adapt to and colonize new hosts.

Invertons, the team noted, are common, particularly among bacterial species found in the human gut. Many help bacteria adjust their interactions with a host's immune system and other aspects of their surroundings by controlling which proteins and other molecules they display on the surface.

Cell - Surroundings - Instance

They also appear to respond to a bacterial cell's surroundings. For instance,...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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