Bacteria turn threatening in tests with immune cells

When benign E. coli (yellow or blue) repeatedly face the immune cells called macrophages (red), the bacteria can develop genetic mutations to transform into life-threatening pathogens.

Gordo lab/Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência

In less than 30 days, nonthreatening E. coli can transform into dangerous microbes in mice.

As benign E. coli continuously faced immune system cells, the bacteria began to grow in small colonies and develop genetic mutations that could help them survive immune cells’ attacks. The mutant E. coli were more resistant to being engulfed by the immune cells and were also more likely to cause disease in infected mice than the original strains, researchers report December 12 in PLOS Pathogens.

The results could help scientists develop ways to combat the disease-causing bacteria. 

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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