Scientists uncover details of viral infections that drive environmental, human health

April 10, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Below the surface of systems as large and ancient as an ocean and as small and new as a human baby are communities of viruses and bacteria that interact to influence everything from worldwide oxygen levels to the likelihood a newborn will fall ill.

Understanding the interplay between those microbes could one day help scientists devise ways to preserve the environment and tackle hard-to-fight diseases.

New research from The Ohio State University offers a glimpse into the complexity of interactions between bacteria and the viruses - or phages -- that infect them. The study appears online in The ISME Journal.

These interactions are routine and can be good or bad for the infected bacteria, but until now little was known about how different one of these interactions might be from another, said lead researcher Cristina Howard-Varona, a postdoctoral microbiology researcher at Ohio State.

"We're trying to understand how effective a virus -- or phage -- is when it infects one bacteria versus another and we've learned that there are important differences," Howard-Varona said.

"In any environment, not all phages are going to infect in the same way, at the same speed and with the same success."

In the study, the research team used advanced equipment in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy to piece together in real time the details of the infection inside two genetically similar bacterial "hosts" when they were infected by either the same or different viruses. The Orbitrap mass spectrometer and next-generation gene sequencers allowed them to watch for all the steps in the interaction between the viruses and the bacterial cells, which were quite different in speed and success.

The bacterial strains used in the study are commonly found in the environment and affect nutrient turnover, health and disease.

"The infection efficiency was very, very different when looking at two different phages that infected the same bacterial host. In one case, the phage propagates and kills cells incredibly fast -- in about an hour -- and in the other case it's much slower, more than 10 times as long," Howard-Varona said.

While it's too early to say where this science might lead, the aim is to eventually understand these interactions in a way that could open the door to improving the environment and human health, she said.

"In some cases, phage infection is good and you could envision intervening to boost infection efficiency to fight all sorts of human pathogens that are no longer sensitive to antibiotics, such as MRSA," Howard-Varona said. "But to do that, we need to understand the basic mechanisms, including those outlined in this study."

The research highlights the importance of moving beyond studies of "ideal" interactions between bacteria and viruses in the lab setting and seeking more knowledge about the true varying interplay between microorganisms in nature, said Matthew Sullivan, an associate professor of microbiology at Ohio State.

"When you look at natural phage and bacteria interactions -- such as those in this study - you see that many steps in the phage-host interaction are needed to infect efficiently, and that the infection differs depending on the phage and the bacteria."

Added Howard-Varona, "Historically, in the lab, scientists have used these model systems with the fastest, greatest infection efficiency but that's not always true in nature -- in water, or soil or in our bodies -- and it's important to understand the differences."
-end-
Other Ohio State researchers who worked on the study were Katherine Hargreaves and Natalie Solonenko. The Ohio State researchers collaborated with scientists from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Department of Energy's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory.

The study was supported by the Department of Energy and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

CONTACTS:

Cristina Howard-Varona
Howard.1264@osu.edu

Matthew Sullivan
614-247-1616
Sullivan.948@osu.edu

Ohio State University

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.