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"molecular Tweeting" Could Hold the Key to Busting Superbugs

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Carnegie Mellon University researchers simulated biofilm evolution involving both homogeneous and heterogeneous bacteria populations. Different bacteria strains are represented by different colors.

Carnegie Mellon University researchers are using the concept of Twitter to help them better understand how communication among bacteria can result in antibiotic resistance.

Credit: G. Wei et al.

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers are using the metaphor of Twitter to help them better understand the ways communication among bacteria can lead to antibiotic resistance.

Bacteria communicate by exchanging signaling molecules in a process known as quorum sensing. This process contributes to the ways groups of bacteria coordinate their efforts to create biofilms that can protect them from antibiotics. A team led by CMU professor Radu Marculescu has developed a network model that uses the metaphor of Twitter to explain these behaviors.

The researchers created their simulations by employing a trio of computer models of bacterial behavior. In the first, bacteria act like active Twitter users by sending out and passing along molecular messages, tweeting and retweeting them. In the second group, bacteria send out their own signals but do not pass along those of other bacteria: they tweet, but do not retweet. In the final model, the bacteria do not send any messages.

The researchers think their simulations can help illuminate how antibiotic resistance arises and could even be used to create personalized treatment plans that will have the greatest possible efficacy without inducing antibiotic resistance.

The researchers will present their findings this month at the ACM Conference on Bioinformatics, Computational Biology, and Health Informatics in Atlanta, and at ACM's second International Conference on Nanoscale Computing and Communication in Boston.

From Scientific American
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