If you followed this blog for a while now, you are probably fully aware that bacteria are basically everywhere. Apart from that lake in Ethiopia, in which only recently scientists did not detect any form of life – a fact, which for me is still hard to digest.
Anyway, when bacteria grow in the environment for example on water systems or pipelines, their metabolic activity can lead to degradation of the metal and to corrosion of the material. This can seriously effect functioning of the pipes which can then also result in serious health issues.
One bacterium that likes to grow on metallic surfaces in the soil is the bacterium Desulfovibrio vulgaris. This interesting bacterium can live with sulphur rather than oxygen and has not been fully characterised yet.
The problem with bacteria like Desulfovibrio vulgaris is that they like to form biofilms on metallic surfaces in the warm and wet soil. If you do not remember what a biofilm is, you might want to refresh your memory with this post where I explain in more detail what biofilms are.
Since biofilms protect bacteria like a house from the environment but also from antibiotics, scientists were looking for different means to break down the biofilm house and to inhibit the growth of bacteria.
They looked at all the genes of Desulfovibrio vulgaris with bioinformatic tools and found a few candidates which were likely to inhibit biofilms. These candidates were chosen due to their similarity to other enzymes from other bacteria with such ability.
They were then able to characterise one of these enzymes in more detail and showed that it works like a scissor that breaks down biofilms of Desulfovibrio vulgaris but also of other bacteria from different families.
Previously, scientists found these kind of scissors in other bacteria, but so far they always focused on biofilms that are formed by bacteria in hospital settings. Now, they even found a new method to break down and inhibit biofilms that are formed by bacteria in environmental settings.
Why do bacteria produce these scissors in the first place when they like living in a biofilm house I hear you ask?
As I explained in this previous article, the bacterial biofilm lifestyle works like a cycle. Bacteria build their biofilms and use them as houses. As soon as nutrients are scarce or there are too many bacteria within a biofilm, some bacteria cut themselves loose and start looking for a new place to live where they might build a new biofilm house. To cut loose from the biofilm they need to break down parts of the biofilm for which they use those scissors. Once they cut themselves free from the biofilm they start swimming and looking for a new place to live.
Together, by discovering these new kinds of scissors, scientists now have novel means to combat bacterial biofilms in many different settings like the environment or in hospitals.