According to a new study, bacteria can physically “feel” the world.A research group at the University of Basel’s Biozentrum has now discovered that bacteria not only respond to chemical signals but also possess a sense of touch.
Our sense of touch is a very important tool for living in the world. It helps to avoid hazards and dangerous surfaces and keeps you from crushing delicate objects.
For bacteria, it helps them to determine which type of surface they’re in contact with such as a mucous membrane or intestinal wall and therefore colonize and attack host cells.The researchers demonstrated how a bacteria recognize surfaces and respond to this mechanical stimulus within seconds.This mechanism is also used by pathogens to colonize and attack their host cells.
Some bacteria have an appendage called the flagellum – whip like structures that propel them around. Some have just one flagellum, others have many. The juvenile C. crescentus has a single flagellum that it sheds after a set period, or after it finds a suitable surface to adhere to by rotating this flagellum, the bacteria can travel through liquids. But these microorganisms don’t have muscles, the movement is enabled by energy generated by the transfer of protons down the cell membrane.
And this is the mechanism that permits the microorganism to “feel”, the researchers have concluded. When cells come into touch with surfaces, the motor that drives the flagellum is interrupted. This in turn interrupts the proton flow within seconds of this going on, the bacteria respond, producing the adhesin with the intention to anchor it in an area.
“What we discovered in Caulobacter also applies to important human pathogens. In order to better control and treat infections, it is mandatory to better understand processes that occur during these very first few seconds after surface contact,” Jenal Said