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Biologists have found a caterpillar bacterium that lives in the oral cavity

Biologists have found a caterpillar bacterium that lives in the oral cavity 1

Conchiformibius steedae: fluorescence micrograph

(ORDO NEWS) — Stick-like cells of Neisseria have learned to divide not across, but along, keeping in touch with each other. By forming a caterpillar-like structure, they are more securely fixed in place.

Our oral cavity harbors hundreds of species of bacteria, although it is not easy to survive there. It is even difficult to stay still: epithelial cells are constantly exfoliating, and for a long time it is possible to gain a foothold only on tooth enamel.

This stimulates microbes to cooperate with each other, form stable biofilms and even something like multicellular communities.

Neisseriaceae bacteria demonstrate this ability : when dividing, their cells do not diverge, but form a caterpillar-like structure, each cell of which is held on the surface with one of its ends.

Silvia Bulgheresi and her colleagues studied microbes of the Neisseriaceae family . These are gram-negative bacteria, among which there are both rounded cocci and elongated rods.

Ordinary rod cells divide across their long axis, but some Neisseria that live in the oral cavity have mastered a different way of reproduction.

They divide along, and new cells do not diverge, but remain closely connected with each other. A structure is formed that resembles a segmented caterpillar lying sideways on the surface. Together, the cells are better retained on the substrate.

“Caterpillar” Simonsiella muelleri under a scanning electron microscope

Scientists examined such Neisseria under an electron microscope, finding that individual cells in this “caterpillar” can maintain different individual shapes.

Possibly, this indicates a partial specialization of their functions: such behavior is sometimes indeed manifested in unicellular organisms that form biofilms and bacterial mats.

Comparing the genomes of different members of the family, biologists have shown that the Neisseria dividing along the line come from sticks, which divide, as usual, across.

The scientists failed to achieve this effect by genetic manipulations, although after certain interventions they obtained more elongated and thinner cells.


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