Microbial ecology may be a young field but it is well understood already that there is a broad spectrum of interactions between bacterial species, ranging from cooperative to competitive. In a recent paper researchers from John Mekalanos’ lab further characterized a recently discovered mechanism for inter-cell communication. This system, called the Type VI secretion system (T6SS), is a multi-protein complex native to many bacterial strains and structurally and functionally similar to a bacteriophage tail. The T6SS system is unique in that it is used as a weapon for injecting toxic proteins into the cytoplasm not only of animal host cells but also of neighboring bacterial cells by propelling its components through the neighbors’ membrane. The toxic effector proteins, Tse1 and Tse3, are peptidoglycan-degrading enzymes that can cause cell lysis in the absence of antitoxin proteins.
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