Bacteria are simple single-called organisms with a complex relationship with humans. Sometimes bacteria are benign, such as those aiding our digestion, while others are destructive, causing diseases like pneumonia and MRSA. And a previously unknown bacterial survival strategy has been discovered that is set to explain why infections re-emerge after treatment.
Some bacteria enter zombie-like states to survive extreme conditions.
We saw clear differences between the active state, the dormant state and this state
Professor Leendert Hamoen
Although the bacteria are not asleep, in this mode they demonstrate slowed processes while remaining somewhat active.
Researchers were investigating the survival strategies of the non-pathogenic bacterium, Bacillus subtilis.
The bacteria were starved for long periods of time, and their response observed.
Bacteria are already known to “sleep” within a protective coating, the study’s showed a variant that could not do this as the result of a mutation.
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But despite lacking the ability to become dormant, the scientists found some could still survive.
This is due to a third, previously unknown, state the team dubbed oligotrophic growth.
Professor Leendert Hamoen, of the University of Amsterdam, said: “We saw clear differences between the active state, the dormant state and this state.
“Normally, Bacillus is rod-shaped, but the starved bacteria shrank until they were almost spherical.
“All kinds of processes that are normally active in the bacterium were altered.