Bacteria fall into hibernation to survive from antibiotics

In some bacterial populations, a subset develops more slowly than the rest, which allows it to survive despite the presence of antibiotics. The study was published in the journal Science Signaling. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have found that bacteria use an unexpected tactic to get rid of the effect of antibiotics: they fall into hibernation.

“We studied Escherichia coli bacteria isolated from urinary tract infections. They were treated with antibiotics and were supposed to be under control. But at some point the bacteria woke up and began to spread again, “explained Professor Kenn Gerdes from the Department of Biology at the University of Copenhagen.

A hypnotized bacterium is not resistant to antibiotics. It is temporarily tolerant because it stops growing.

Usually, antibiotics target the growth mechanism of bacteria and this means that a bacterium found in hibernation is sparing on antibiotic attacks. “A bacterium in hypnosis manages to survive by antibiotics as it stops growing,” said Professor Gerdes.

Researchers have discovered that an enzyme in “sleeping” bacteria helps them get into a state of hypnosis.

“The discovery of this enzyme is a good basis for the future development of antibiotics that will also be able to detect hypnotic bacteria to kill them,” Gerdes noted. The enzyme runs a survival program.

Developing antibiotics that will target this general survival program will be a huge step against bacteria, researchers said.