Research sheds light on how silver ions kill bacteria

April 09, 2020

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - The antimicrobial properties of silver have been known for centuries. While it is still a mystery as to exactly how silver kills bacteria, University of Arkansas researchers have taken a step toward better understanding the process by looking at dynamics of proteins in live bacteria at the molecular level.

Traditionally, the antimicrobial effects of silver have been measured through bioassays, which compare the effect of a substance on a test organism against a standard, untreated preparation. While these methods are effective, they typically produce only snapshots in time, said Yong Wang, assistant professor of physics and an author of the study, published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Instead, Wang and his colleagues used an advanced imaging technique, called single-particle-tracking photoactivated localization microscopy, to watch and track a particular protein found in E. coli bacteria over time. Researchers were surprised to find that silver ions actually sped up the dynamics of the protein, opposite of what they thought would happen. "It is known that silver ions can suppress and kill bacteria; we thus expected that everything slowed down in the bacteria when treated with silver. But, surprisingly, we found that the dynamics of this protein became faster."

The researchers observed that silver ions were causing paired strands of DNA in the bacteria to separate, and the binding between the protein and the DNA to weaken. "Then the faster dynamics of the proteins caused by silver can be understood," said Wang. "When the protein is bound to the DNA, it moves slowly together with the DNA, which is a huge molecule in the bacteria. In contrast, when treated with silver, the proteins fall off from the DNA, moving by themselves and thus faster."

The observation of DNA separation caused by silver ions came from earlier work that Wang and colleagues had done with bent DNA. Their approach, now patent pending, was to put strain on DNA strands by bending them, thus making them more susceptible to interactions with other chemicals, including silver ions.

The National Science Foundation-funded study validated the idea of investigating the dynamics of single proteins in live bacteria, said Wang, an approach that could help researchers understand the real-time responses of bacteria to silver nanoparticles, which have been proposed for fighting against so-called "superbugs" that are resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics.

"What we want to do eventually is to use the new knowledge generated from this project to make better antibiotics based on silver nanoparticles," said Wang.
-end-


University of Arkansas

Related Bacteria Articles from Brightsurf:

Siblings can also differ from one another in bacteria
A research team from the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is investigating how pathogens influence the immune response of their host with genetic variation.

How bacteria fertilize soya
Soya and clover have their very own fertiliser factories in their roots, where bacteria manufacture ammonium, which is crucial for plant growth.

Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.

Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.

Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.

Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.

Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.

How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.

The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?

Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.

Read More: Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.