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Researchers capture bacterial infection on film

Visit University of Bath website

27 July 2009

BBSRC-funded researchers have developed a new technique that allows them to make a movie of bacteria infecting their living host.

Whilst most studies of bacterial infection are done after the death of the infected organism, this system developed by scientists at the University of Bath and University of Exeter is the first to follow the progress of infection in real-time with living organisms.

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The researchers used developing fruit fly embryos as a model organism, injecting fluorescently tagged bacteria into the embryos and observing their interaction with the insect’s immune system using time-lapse confocal microscopy.

The researchers can also tag individual bacterial proteins to follow their movement and determine their specific roles in the infection process.

The scientists are hoping to use this system in the future with human pathogens such as Listeria and Trypanosomes. By observing how these bacteria interact with the immune system, researchers will gain a better understanding of how they cause an infection and could eventually lead to better antibacterial treatments.

Dr Will Wood, Research Fellow in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Bath, explained: "Cells often behave very differently once they have been taken out of their natural environment and cultured in a petri dish.

"In the body, immune surveillance cells such as hemocytes (or macrophages in vertebrates) are exposed to a battery of signals from different sources. The cells integrate these signals and react to them accordingly.

"Once these cells are removed from this complex environment and cultured in a petri dish these signals are lost. Therefore it is really important to study whole organisms to fully understand how bacteria interact with their host."

Dr Nick Waterfield, co-author on the study and Research Officer at the University of Bath, said: "To be able to film the microscopic battle between single bacterial cells and immune cells in a whole animal and in real time is astounding.

"It will ultimately allow us to properly understand the dynamic nature of the infection process."

Professor Richard Ffrench-Constant, Professor of Molecular Natural History at the University of Exeter, added: "For the first time this allows us to actually examine infection in real time in a real animal – it’s a major advance!"

The study, published in PLoS Pathogens, was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

ENDS

Image

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This image is protected by copyright law and may be used with acknowledgement of University of Bath.

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Confocal microscope image showing insect immune cells (green) containing fluorescently labelled E.coli (red). (246KB)

Notes to editors

Vlisidou, I. Dowling, A. J., Evans, I. R., Waterfield, N., ffrench-Constant, R. H. and Wood, W. (2009) "Drosophila embryos as model systems for monitoring bacterial infection in real time" is published in PLoS Pathogens 5(7): e1000518. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000518.

About the University of Bath

The University of Bath is one of the UK’s leading universities, with an international reputation for quality research and teaching. Bath is ranked in the UK top ten of universities in both the Guardian University Guide and the Complete University Guide published by The Independent. The University values working collaboratively with others and has a global network of contacts in business, the professions, the public sector, and the voluntary sector. It also benefits from strong links with the local community.

View a full list of the University’s press releases: www.bath.ac.uk/news
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About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.

The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

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