Bacteria Evolving to Target the Throat

There is a concerning finding by researchers at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS). Bacteria has been making a special change in it’s general shape, and ultimately it’s function. The pathogenic bacteria that live in the nasopharynx look as though they have changed shape over time. Changed from the shape of of sticks to balls or bacillus to coccus. Changing shape may actually help the bacteria move past the natural defenses of the throat and populate the desired area.

Respiratory infections are the number three top killers in the world. For this reason health officials that care for the public watch them carefully. Bacteria has had a long time to evolve to fight the immune defenses of the human body. These specific bacteria have an ecological specialty which includes populating the throat.

Surprisingly, the lack of a gene can actually help in the evolution of bacteria. The bacteria neisseria meningitidis and moraxella catharralis lack a gene called yacF. For this reason they are able to evolved and change their shape. This gives them the special ability to adapt as they need to continuously infect the nasal passages and respiratory tract of humans year after year.

Because the bacteria changed shape they now have the ability to transform the composition of specific molecules along their surface. This allows them to disguise themselves from the human immune system. The transformation of the molecules makes it difficult for the immune system to regularly detect the bacteria.

This finding actually challenges current thoughts that the shape of bacteria was fixed and couldn’t be changed. This is why this discovery is so important in the microbiological community. While not all bacteria can change their shape, the fact that two different species were found that carried this ability means that there are most certainly others.

Now that researchers understand a little more about the function and evolution of bacteria it is their hope to be able to use the new found information to create better treatments for severe bacterial illnesses in the future. Researchers are constantly looking for ways to prevent bacteria from constantly changing, making it more difficult for our natural immune defenses to protect the body.

New advances in medical research seem to be coming to light every day. There is an evolution in medicine that is accelerating. Learning how bacteria evolve is just one piece in the puzzle to eliminating disease and all of it’s effects.