Art That Illustrates the Danger of Antibacterial Everything

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What you're looking at is the art of bacterial adaptation. It's beautiful. It should also make you a little uncomfortable, and a little hopeful. Part of a collaboration between Professor Eshel Ben-Jacob, of Tel-Aviv University, and Professor Herbert Levine of UCSDs National Science Foundation Frontier Center for Theoretical Biological Physics, these pictures are a visual representation of the way bacteria evolve to overcome life-threatening obstacles---like, say, hand gel. The art is also about the way bacteria fight back, which involves a form of communication. The researchers hope to use that skill against the bacteria to create a new generation of antibacterial weaponry.

While the colors and shading are artistic additions, the image templates are actual colonies of tens of billions of these microorganisms. The colony structures form as adaptive responses to laboratory-imposed stresses that mimic hostile environments faced in nature. They illustrate the coping strategies that bacteria have learned to employ, strategies that involve cooperation through communication. These selfsame strategies are used by the bacteria in their struggle to defeat our best antibiotics. Thus, if we understand the mechanisms behind the patterns, we can learn how to outsmart the bacteria - for example, by tampering with their communication - in our ongoing battle for our health.

The once controversial idea that bacteria cooperate to solve challenges has become commonplace, with the discovery of specific channels of communication between the cells and specific mechanisms facilitating the exchange of genetic information. Retrospectively, these capabilities should not have been seen as so surprising, as bacteria set the stage for all life on Earth and indeed invented most of the processes of biology. As we try to stay ahead of the disease-causing varieties of these versatile creatures, we must use our own intelligence to understand them.

See more by following the link to Prof. Ben-Jacob's site.

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