E. coli’s mutation rate linked to cells’ crosstalk

Bacteria resistant to antibiotics (shown) may develop the mutations to resist antibiotics more quickly when they live in a small crowd than when they live in larger groups, a new study suggests.

Rok Krašovec/Univ. of Manchester

When E. coli cells aren’t hanging out in a crowd, the rate at which their genes mutate to resist the antibiotic rifampicin increases up to threefold. The finding shows that the microbes’ ability to develop antibiotic resistance depends on a gene that helps the bacterial cells communicate. Manipulating this type of crosstalk among bacterial cells may provide a way to slow the pervasive emergence of antibiotic resistance, researchers suggest April 29 in Nature Communications.

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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