Chemists Decode Bacterial 'Conversations' In Effort To Block Deadly Infections

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Eavesdropping can sometimes be a good thing. Researchers are learning how to listen to a wide range of bacterial conversations - the chemical signals bacteria use to communicate with each other - in an effort to design new compounds to thwart deadly infections, particularly those involved in the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, according to an article scheduled for the Oct. 23 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly newsmagazine.

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C&EN associate editor Sarah Everts shows that researchers have made significant strides in decoding bacterial conversations, also known as quorum sensing, a phenomenon first discovered in the 1970s by a group of biologists who were exploring bioluminescent bacteria found in squid. By the 1990s, the concept of bacterial conversations had stimulated new research efforts after the process was observed in other species of bacteria, particularly pathogenic species, Everts notes.

Today, chemists are designing new compounds to mute these chemical conversations in an effort to stop the growth of E. coli, Staphylococcus, anthrax and infections that affect the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. Researchers also have identified compounds that can potentially silence pesky biofilms, slimy envelopes of carbohydrates that bacteria produce to defend themselves from attack. These biofilms threaten medical implants, fuel tanks in jet planes and even dental health, Everts notes in the article. While scientists still do not know all of the secrets behind bacterial conversations, they are moving closer toward stopping some of bacteria's most harmful effects, according to the article.

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