You might think your inbox has troubles, but studies now show that even single-cell sicknesses have their share of scammers and swindlers. University of Edinburgh researchers have found that cheating bacteria can take advantage of their poor, innocent, disease-causing colleagues, causing the entire colony to collapse - and curing the patient.
Many bacteria can work together in crude but powerful societies, moving together and relying on sheer numbers to endure hazardous conditions. This means that many have to sacrifice themselves for the needs of the many, and in a very un-Spock way some cells say "Screw that for a game of soldiers." These bacteria learn to cheat by listening in on community chemical communications but refusing to join in. These pathogenic pretenders rapidly consume resources and out-multiply their co-operating friends.
But these mini-cheats were discovered by humans, and we're way, way better at cheating than them. Professor Stuart West has found that introducing them into an otherwise healthy sicknesses (oxymoron and all) significantly reduces the effectiveness of the infection. The bacterial Benedict Arnolds rapidly swamp the original bacteria, but are far less effective in actually fighting the real immune system enemy.
This technique has been shown to work in petri dishes and lab mice, but there are still questions to answer before using it as a medical technique. Questions like "When a bacteria's WHOLE DEAL is betrayal, do we really want to make it stronger and ask it to cure us?"
Posted by Luke McKinney.
Tiny Traitors http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090121/full/news.2009.47.html?s=news_rss