Bacteria on a surface wander around and often organize into highly resilient communities known as biofilms. It turns out that they organize in a rich-get-richer pattern similar to the distribution of wealth in the U.S. economy, according to a new study by researchers at University of California, Los Angeles, Northwestern University, and the University of Washington.
The study, published online in Nature, is the first to identify the strategy by which bacteria form the microcolonies that become biofilms, which can cause lethal infections. The research may have significant implications for battling stubborn bacterial infections that do not respond to antibiotics.
Bacteria in biofilms behave very differently from free-swimming bacteria. Within biofilms, bacteria change their gene expression patterns and are far more resistant to antibiotics and the body's immune defenses than individual, free-swimming bacteria because they mass together and are protected by a matrix of proteins, DNA and long chain-like sugar molecules called polysaccharides. This makes seemingly routine infections potentially deadly.