A team of researchers from Boston University, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently made a discovery that changes a long held paradigm about how bacteria move through soft gels. They showed that the bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, that causes human stomach ulcers uses a clever biochemical strategy to alter the physical properties of its environment, allowing it to move and survive and further colonize its host.
In order to colonize the stomach, H. pylori must cope with highly acidic conditions in which other bacteria are unable to survive. Acidic conditions within the stomach also work against the bacteria's ability to move freely. This is due to a protein called "mucin," a crucial component of the protective mucus layer in the stomach.
However, H. pylori increases the pH of its surroundings and changes this "mucin" gel to a liquid, allowing the bacterium to swim across the mucus barrier, establish colonies, attack surface cells and form ulcers.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports the findings in its most recent issue.
(Edit Note: Formerley titled "Researchers uncover how H. pylori form ulcers." New title created by NYCMickey via Twitter.)