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Bacteria arm their allies with toxic spear guns

"The special thing about Vibrio cholerae is that it assembles spear guns all the time and fires them aimlessly," explained study author Andrea Vettiger

Brooks Hays
Vibrio cholerae bacteria, shown in green, reuse toxic proteins supplied by their attacking sister cells, shown in red, to bulk up their own arsenal of spear guns. Photo by University of Basel
Most kitchens and bathrooms feature at least a few anti-microbial agents. But bacteria don't go quietly.
When they aren't fighting soaps and disinfectants, they're battling rival microorganisms. And when they do enter into combat, new research shows they enlist the help of their relatives by offering allied bacteria arms.
Bacteria use molecular spear guns, the heads of which secrete deadly toxins. The nano-warheads deliver their poisons using a Type VI secretion system.
Given the close relations of so many bacterial strains, it would seem death by friendly fire would be inevitable during close-quarters warfare. But a new study suggests the close relatives of a combative bacterium aren't harmed by the spear guns. Instead, the relatives adopt the weapons into their own arsenal and join their allies in battle.
"When bacteria fire their spear guns, the sheath rapidly contracts in just a few milliseconds and ejects the spear out of the cell into by-standing bacteria," Marek Basler, infection biologist at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, said in a news release. "The attackers then recycle the harpoon proteins remaining in the cell."
A bacterium's allies do the same thing, disassembling the spear of their relatives and incorporating the toxic protein into its own armory.
Basler and his colleagues were able to watch the cholera pathogen, Vibrio cholerae, arm its allies with weaponized proteins -- a first.
Researchers recalled their novel observations in a new paper, published this week in the journal Cell.

"The special thing about Vibrio cholerae is that it assembles spear guns all the time and fires them aimlessly," explained study author Andrea Vettiger. "If one of T6SS-defecient bacteria is randomly hit, it disassembles the spear gun to its individual components, the shaft and tip proteins, and reassembles its own functional harpoon."
Bacteria arm their allies with toxic spear guns Reviewed by Chidinma C Amadi on 10:11 PM Rating: 5

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