• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Science Note/ Bacteria: Knights in Shining Armor

Air Date: Week of June 29, 2012

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

S layer bacteria. (Credit: ©VIB, 2012)

Scientists discover that bacteria’s protective sheath looks and works a lot like the chain mail used by medieval knights.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman. Apparently, our program’s managing producer has spent too much time in the sun - she’s turned into the most boring person in the office…we’ll have that story, but first this note on emerging science from Annie Sneed.

[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]

SNEED: Around a million bacteria can fit on the head of a pin. But their tiny size hardly makes them defenseless. Scientists have discovered that bacteria have a sturdy suit of armor.
Most bacteria are enclosed in a protective layer of protein. Until recently, researchers didn’t have the technology to get a close up look at this protein coat. But now, scientists in Belgium, using high-tech imaging, can see the individual atoms of bacteria’s body armor.
The bacteria devote up to a third of their protein to build the sheath. The proteins hook together like chain mail worn by medieval knights. This mesh shield guards bacteria from attackers, such as viruses. Chinks in the chain mail allow them to take up nutrients and get rid of waste.
Some harmful bacteria, such as anthrax and the intestinal bug, C. diff, have this type of chain mail coat. Scientists next want to understand what role the armor plays in disease, so that we may better fight pathogens. But, as researchers now know, these bacteria don’t go into battle unarmed. That’s this week’s note on Emerging Science. I’m Annie Sneed.

[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]

 

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.