These pale streaks are made up of millions upon millions of microscopic bacteria – and they’re going places. Many types of bacteria can jump from animals to people, causing dangerous infections such as anthrax, or the so-called superbug MRSA. But some stay put, and don’t spread between different species. Through analysing DNA in almost 200 types of bacteria, researchers have discovered that the most ‘social’ bugs – which co-operate together to create a good environment in which to grow – are the ones most likely to make the leap into humans. Unlike Facebook, the bacterial social network relies on the bugs releasing tiny amounts of chemicals, which act as molecular messages. This helps to adjust the conditions around the bacteria, so they can cope with living in different species. Figuring out how these social networks work could help to predict potentially deadly new infections in the future, and help us fight them.
Written by Kat Arney
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.