Bacteria and fungi can work together to move across the surface of teeth

(ORDO NEWS) — An unusual union of representatives of different domains of the living – fungi and bacteria – allows the microbes of the oral cavity to more reliably hold on to the teeth and move along them, quickly crawling and even making sharp “jumps”.

Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania (USA) studied saliva samples taken from children with severe tooth damage.

Their main attention was drawn to the bacteria Streptococcus mutans and the microscopic fungus Candida albicans , most often involved in the formation of carious cavities.

It turned out that these microbes often occur in the form of close communities, where both cells are present, connected by extracellular polymers, glycoproteins.

It is worth recalling that similar unions between representatives of different domains of life are well known to biologists. For example, lichens are symbiotic associations of fungi and cyanobacteria.

However, in the case of oral microbes, they are much more dangerous. Such communities are more resistant to the action of the body’s defense systems, better retained on the surface of the teeth and even actively spread over it, leading to more serious damage than each microbe separately.

Bacteria and fungi can work together to move across the surface of teeth 2
In the photomicrograph, bacterial cells are colored green, fungal hyphae are blue: as the community grows, it actively moves

The scientists were able to grow communities of streptococci and Candida on a material – a simulated tooth enamel in the presence of saliva and observe their behavior.

It turned out that they can use fast-growing fungal filaments, hyphae, to move along the surface of the tooth.

By themselves, streptococci are immobile, but thanks to an alliance with fungi, they can move at a speed of 40 micrometers per hour.

And in some cases, the movement even occurred in jumps covering up to 100 micrometers at once, which is more than 200 times their own size.

“They have a lot of so-called emergent properties that give community members opportunities that they do not have individually,” said Hyun Koo, one of the authors of the work. “It’s almost like a new organism, a superorganism with new functions.”

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