Although bacteria have no sensory organs in the classical sense, they are still masters in perceiving their environment. A research group at the University of Basel’s Biozentrum has now discovered that bacteria not only respond to chemical signals, but also possess a sense of touch. In their recent publication in Science, the researchers demonstrate how bacteria recognize surfaces and respond to this mechanical stimulus within seconds. This mechanism is also used by pathogens to colonize and attack their host cells.
Be it through mucosa or the intestinal lining, different tissues and surfaces of our body are entry gates for bacterial pathogens. The first few seconds – the moment of touch – are often critical for successful infections. Some pathogens use mechanical stimulation as a trigger to induce their virulence and to acquire the ability to damage host tissue. The research group led by Prof. Urs Jenal, at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, has recently discovered how bacteria sense that they are on a surface and what exactly happens in these crucial first few seconds.
Isabelle Hug, Siddharth Deshpande, Kathrin S. Sprecher, Thomas Pfohl, Urs Jenal. Second messenger–mediated tactile response by a bacterial rotary motor. Science, 2017; 358 (6362): 531 DOI: 10.1126/science.aan5353
Sense of touch: Swimming bacteria can sense surfaces with the flagellum.Credit: University of Basel, Biozentrum