Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Hungry Heart
23 July 2017

Hungry Heart

Crawling around in artificial colours, these green bacteria are spreading over a rat heart cell (pink). As horrifying as this sounds, it may be the first step to saving human lives. Like all muscles, our hearts need oxygen for respiration; producing energy for pumping and flexing. Ischemic heart diseases like angina can damage the flow of oxygen in the blood, often leading to heart failure. Enter Synechococcus elongatus, bacteria that photosynthesise – exposure to light sets them working to produce oxygen which feeds the heart cells. This amazing feat of cooperation, or symbiosis, improves the health of rats suffering from ischemia simply by letting the bacteria live side by side. While the idea of a syringe full of microbes being pushed into our chests might seem a crazy thing to do, in future it might be the start of a beautiful relationship deep within our hearts.

Written by John Ankers

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