Mining Social Networks … Of Bacteria!

Mining Social Networks … Of Bacteria!

The Unseen War: In the intense, unseen competition for space and food, warring factions of bacteria produce antibiotics in a microscopic, internecine war. Actinomycetes, a filamentous type of bacteria found in soil, are arguably the deepest and richest natural source of drugs that we exploit as antibiotics, antifungals, chemotherapeutics and immunosuppressants. It was from an actinobacterium, Streptomyces that the first compound to be dubbed an antibiotic was isolated, in the lab of Ukrainian born microbiologist Selman Waksman. Streptomycin cured tuberculosis, winning Waksman a Nobel prize in 1952.  

Antibiotic Apocalypse: Since then, however, rampant antibiotic resistance has led the director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to issue a dire warning that we may be heading into a post-antibiotic era (for a scary read: A potential way to fight back is with phage therapy, a ploy that uses viruses to prey on their natural bacterial targets (see The Enemy of My Enemy: 

Hold the Doom and Gloom:  Scientists may yet have other tricks up their lab coat sleeves. Recently, they have discovered that the vast majority of compounds manufactured by bacteria are coded by sleeping gene clusters that can be woken up only in response to specific environmental challenges or bacterial interactions. Grown under typical laboratory conditions, bacteria produce only a handful of their complex repertoire of chemicals. But when placed in intimate contact with competing species, co-cultures of Streptomyces coelicolor produce many new and specialized compounds. Specific communities of microbes yield distinctive “chemical signatures”, revealing an untapped potential for the discovery of new antibiotics. This promising approach could be used not just with actinomycetes, but with all kinds of antibiotic-producing microbes. Forget Facebook, let’s mine those social networks..of bacteria! 

REF: Imaging Mass Spectrometry Reveals Highly Specific Interactions between Actinomycetes To Activate Specialized Metabolic Gene Clusters (2013) David A. Hopwood

IMAGE: Streptomyces coelicolor via Microbe Wiki


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43 Responses to Mining Social Networks … Of Bacteria!

  1. I know that bacteria are vegetables, and microbes animals.

    The unending war?

     Years ago I embraced a very big and tall Himalayan tree, around 3m. diameter with a very deep feeling and respect for it.

    Some people saw me doing that, and then one of them asked me: What do you asked it, its power?

    No, I said.

    I asked it its  knowledge.

  2. Rajini Rao says:

    Bacteria are not vegetables nor are they animals. Nevertheless, embracing a Himalayan tree is pretty harmless. Enjoy! 

  3. Me and those sleeping gene clusters are so alike.

  4. Rajini Rao says:

    Jitendra Mulay you just need the right social network to wake you up 🙂

  5. Rajini Rao What are them? Pre veggies? 

  6. Jim Donegan says:

    Great article. Some extremely cool and exciting genetics work coming up in these areas. Really looking forward myself to seeing if we get a good computational understanding of the interactions between genes to form active gene complexes that are predictably responsible for specific physiological change. Keep us posted!

  7. Rajini Rao says:

    Jim Donegan yes, indeed, computational networks of gene clusters that are active in different environments should let us figure out specific novel combinations of chemicals. 

  8. Good article and glad to see this direction of research.

  9. Gary Ray R says:

    Thanks for another interesting post, Rajini Rao 

  10. Rajini Rao says:

    You’re welcome! This looked like a promising direction for antibiotic research, worth highlighting. Perhaps some good news among all the bad! 

  11. John Kampsen says:

    Rajini Rao Great info, Rajini. Makes me wonder if an undesirable Pandora’s box could be opened by this research. Hmmm…

  12. Keep posting the microbial posts,and or any type of free radical,germs or spores,and the atmosphere they best thrive in etc.

    We are very interested with this kind of stuff. Any type of space information, planets etc. etc. Nuclear energy!

  13. Rajini Rao says:

    John Kampsen the idea is to cultivate the same microbial communities that are in nature in lab petri dish. These are not pathogenic bacteria in any case- they live in soil or water. 

  14. Very interesting info. Thanks 🙂

  15. Doc Rajani says:

    I have deep respect to those microscopic organisms which have the ability to survive and adapt to any adverse situations, with their own cunning ways of gene alterations. Bacteria has been in this world many many thousands of years before mankind existed…its only now that we are slowly getting to know them…and surely….it will be a long journey for us, to follow them in all their clever ways of survival.

  16. Paul M says:

    Here’s an interesting (and alarming) seminar delivered recently by Stanford professor Lucy Shapiro on the topic of antibiotic resistance:

  17. Rajini Rao says:

    Doc Rani we still have a lot to learn from bacteria! They will likely be here when we are gone 🙂

    Lacerant Plainer thanks!

  18. Rajini Rao says:

    Paul M thanks for the link, checking it out…

  19. Very interesting, so is this part of quorum sensing? I know that happens within communities of the same type of bacteria so it may also be the same within an ecosystem made up of many different types of bacteria. Great post Rajini Rao 🙂

  20. Jim Gorycki says:

    I agree with the too much antibiotic part, and that the phage therapy may be the only answer.

    I am also hearing about increases in hospitalizations of patients with. c. diff — that is alarming. 

  21. Rajini Rao Infact they have to be there for us to leave (i.e. decompose/recycle earth resources).

  22. I am closely following this social network of bacteria, thanks Rajini Rao for this great post.

  23. Rajini Rao says:

    I’m glad to socialize with my fellow organisms too, MARTIN NDOMONDO . And yes, we need the little bacteria to clean up after our corporal selves too 🙂

  24. Mary T says:

    Great post, Rajini Rao ~ It’s good to see rays of hope.  This anti-biotic resistance issue is quite concerning.

  25. Tom Peterson says:

    I will never look at my home brewed beer the same again.

  26. Until I read your post I thought bacteria had something to do with ones location within a cafeteria. 

  27. Marta Rauch says:

    Fascinating, and good news about the sleeping gene clusters. Thank you Rajini Rao!

  28. Leo Walsh says:

    Wow. A very interesting article on research into bacterial networks. Food for thought since we are entering a world where our typical antibiotics will stop working due to selection pressure. 

    Posted by Rajini Rao 


  29. John Poteet says:

    I would think soil fungi would be a powerful source of antibiotics because a) they’re very long lived and b) they’re quite adept at eliminating hostile bacteria in hot, humid, environments. Of course, fungi also have the advantage that many types can be propagated with cheap substrates like wood chips and straw. 

  30. Deen Abiola says:

    Interesting, thanks. I’ve heard also about possibly treating resistant bacteria by attacking biofilms of dormant populations. Also use of CRISPR and oligomers (PPMOs).

  31. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks, all, for your comments and thoughts! 

    Tom Peterson have you heard of Paleo Ale made from yeast taken from 35 million-year old whale fossil? 🙂

    John Stroncheck scientists also consider bacteria the last frontier-a 🙂

  32. Rajini Rao says:

    Leo Walsh I thought this research offered an optimistic view given that we may be running out of effective antibiotics. 

    Mara Rose and Marta Rauch thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed it.

    John Poteet exactly! Soil is such a complex environment with challenges of humidity, nutrients and competing organisms. Little wonder that these soil microbes have so many chemical weapons in their armament. 

    Deen Abiola biofilms are inherently drug resistant because of their physical organization and composition. I’ll have to check on how the CRISPR technology and oligos are being used as antimicrobials..sounds very interesting. 

  33. Bill Collins says:

    Along the lines of cooperation though, it makes me wonder if we can tease the little critters into working with us instead of against us. Aggressive bacteria are like aggressive individuals. Strong yet a flash in the pan when they get our comfortable lives worked up. Wonder what it would take to train bacteria to work for us too as another alternative? 

  34. It is a terrific idea accessing the “dark matter” of hidden antibiotics by fostering competition among different microbial organisms.

  35. Arup Bhanja says:

    Great .. we might need this research more as we have superbugs now !

  36. This is the best blog I have come across so far. Thank you Rajini for the wonderful thing you are doing for science lovers like me.

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