Researchers at Dundee University have discovered a method bacteria uses against fungal cells – which could in turn be used to help humans fight infections.
A team from the university’s School of Life Sciences worked with experts from Newcastle University on the topic. The teams found that toxins delivered by “poison arrows” are used to kill off different kinds of cells that pose a threat to aggressive bacteria.
Using a tactic known as the Type VI secretion system to fire toxic proteins into neighbouring cells, the process allows competing bacteria to eliminate their rivals. However, the Dundee team found that the same process is also used to attack fungal cells in mixed microbial communities.
The findings were published in Nature Microbiology and could pave the way for more research into targeting fungal cells that cause infections in humans.
Dr Sarah Coulthurst, from the School of Life Sciences, said: “Bacteria kill one another because they want the space to grow and dominate.
“It’s been known for a while now that bacteria use the Type VI secretion system to do this, a bit like shooting poison arrows at a rival, but this research has revealed that bacteria is also using the same method against fungi. It’s constant warfare.
“We don’t know whether the bacterium knows what it is fighting against, but it is clear that bacteria have a range of toxins that will kill other bacteria of fungal cells, allowing them to target a broader range of enemies than we previously thought.
“Microbes which can be killed by this weapon include fungi like Candida albicans, which can commonly cause infections in humans.”