Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Bacterial Warfare
11 November 2012

Bacterial Warfare

Our bodies are full of bacteria. Most are harmless or even helpful but some that invade from the outside world are on the hunt for vulnerable tissues to attack. Viewed from above, these Escherichia coli (E.coli) cells are lurking like purple Zeppelins over a green-coloured surface similar to living tissue. A high-powered microscope highlights the contours of each cell, picking out the details of this mock invasion in 3D (colours have been applied artificially to enhance the dramatic effect). Each bacterial invader – measuring 50,000,000 times smaller than a Goodyear blimp – has attached itself to the surface below with long, anchor-like fibres. As more bacteria latch on, the invasion force gathers – soon they will engulf the surface from view completely. Inside our bodies, a similar scene might warn of only hours until an attack – until the bacteria swoop down on our own cells and clash with our waiting immune defences.

Written by John Ankers

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