Rewriting Life

A Tale of Comets--In Cells

Be the problem tuberculosis, pneumonia, or simply children’s ear infections, antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria responsible for such diseases continue to proliferate. Challenged by this public-health dilemma, scientists are searching for new ways to combat resilient bugs. Recognizing that one possible approach is to block their movement, cellular microbiologists are now monitoring bacterial pathways within host cells with a surprisingly familiar aid-video cameras.

In work as a research fellow at the MIT-affiliated Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Julie A. Theriot has focused on the movement of two food-borne bacteria-Shigella, which causes dysentery, and Listeria, which triggers meningitis and stillbirths. She has found that after entering a host cell, these bacteria divide several times, then form “comet tails” that transport them directly among cells. This photograph shows the kidney cell of a kangaroo rat about four hours after it was injected with Listeria. Videos confirmed that proteins from both the bacteria’s surface and the host cell cooperated in drawing thousands of filaments (shown as green) to the bacteria (red) and in forming the tails. The elongating tails nudge the pathogens into adjacent cells, spreading the infection.

In work with other microbiologists, Theriot, who has recently moved to Stanford University, is determining which genes produce the bacterial proteins and also isolating the host-cell proteins involved. These steps could help in figuring out how to stop comet tails from forming and bacteria from moving from one cell to another. That, in turn, might lead to a more effective disease-fighting strategy than continually updating the antibiotics now used against bacteria such as Shigella.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

You've read of free articles this month.