Friday, March 9, 2012

How bacteria break down our walls of defence

Bacteria have devised several ways to circumvent protection mechanisms built into the body. For starters, microbes have to get around physical barriers such as skin or mucosal surfaces, such as our eyes, before they can think of infecting our tissues and organs. Scientists have discovered how bacteria break down protecting layers of mucus in order to get into our bodies. This discovery could lead to new treatments in order to get them to stay out and keep us healthy.

Bacteria can be classified in various ways, but one of them is to rank them based on their infectious mechanisms. Opportunistic bacteria just sit on skin or mucosal membranes waiting for a chance to get inside, such as in the case of a wound. Other bacteria, classified as epidemic, actively deploy their own strategies to get into the body. This includes breaking down mucosal walls of defence, present on the eyes, the urogenital tract and other areas where the outside world comes in contact with bodily structures, such as in the intestines and the lungs. At Harvard Medical School, scientists took a closer look at strains of epidemic bacteria, to find what causes enables them to break down our slimy walls of defence.

According to their study, an enzyme called ZmpC aids the bacteria in their efforts of getting in the human body. When a bacteria tries to get in through a mucosal membrane, such as the rather nasty strain Streptococcus pneumoniae, this particular enzyme breaks down the mucosal wall, allowing the bacteria to sneak through. The Harvard scientists confirmed their findings by knocking out the gene that is responsible for production of ZmpC in these bacteria. They found the modified bacteria to be unable to tear down the defences, rendering them unable to assert their infectious potential.

By discovering how bacteria tear down our defences and infect our body, we learn more about possible future treatments. Because infections are getting harder to treat due to antibiotic resistance, devising ways to keep microbes out of our body seems a promising strategy. At Harvard, they think it's a major breakthrough in our fight against bacteria. According to the scientists, their next step is to assess whether the same mechanisms is used by other bacteria and whether it's the underlying cause of various diseases.
Mucosal walls are involved in the majority of infectious pathways. According to the statistics, 80 percent of infections arise due to entry through the mucosa.

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