'What Are Those Alien Things In Bacteria?' Professor Dobro and Team of Scientists and Students Publish Discoveries
Drawing national coverage by science media, new research promises better understanding of bacteria affecting human health
Thursday, August 3, 2017
A team of international researchers on a project organized by Hampshire College Assistant Professor Megan Dobro and Caltech Principal Investigator Grant Jensen has recorded never-before-seen structures in bacteria and published its findings in the Journal of Bacteriology, from the American Society for Microbiology. The discovery and recording of these macromolecular structures is groundbreaking because, in Dobro's words, "bacteria are the most abundant life-forms on Earth, and we are now moving toward a comprehensive list of parts inside bacteria. This will help us one day be able to control those that impact human health, and maybe even create our own to solve some of humanity’s biggest problems."
Beginning in 2014, Dobro and the team of scientists and student research assistants from Hampshire, Caltech and nine other institutions internationally conducted a microscopy survey of 3D electron cryotomograms of 88 species of bacteria, producing 3D views of macromolecules in cells. The 15,000 images reside in a database at Caltech's Jensen Lab.
Among the 88 species, the team recorded structures in some bacteria that affect human health, including those that cause cholera, gastric ulcers, food poisoning, the sexually transmitted infection chlamydia, and Lyme disease. Most bacteria are actually helpful to humans, she says: “Gut bacteria help us digest food, provide Vitamin K, improve nutrient absorption, and strengthen our immune system,” for example.