This article really caught my eye today so I read more into the topic. Bacteria in the human body normally thrive in structured 3D communities consisting of several bacterial species. These groups of bacteria can have antibiotic resistance where lone bacteria would be vulnerable; this can affect the severity of an infection in open wounds or in the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis. For example, a recent experiment showed that a community of Staphylococcus aureus became more resistant to antibiotics when contained within a larger community of the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
In the research carried out by the University of Texas they used lasers to form protein ‘cages’ around bacteria in gelatin. The structures formed can be almost any size or shape and can be moved around in relationship to other structures containing bacterial microcommunities. This method of research should allow a completely new type of experiment to take place that represent better the conditions bacteria are faced with in actual biological environments. It also means that scientists can define features of a size scale that’s relevant to what a single bacterium feels and senses, and stimulate the complex bacterial ecologies that exist in actual infections, making results more relatable to real situations. Growth of the bacteria can be stopped at any point to do gene analysis of bacteria and many bacteria can be forced to interact at different densities, over varying timescales.
The gelatin used is a liquid solution when warm but forms a jelly-like texture at room tempreature; bacterial can live and reproduce comfortable in it and it contains photosensitive molecules that causes the gelatin molecules to react and link together when struck by laser light. The bacteria are put in the gelatin solution so that when the solution cools the bacteria will be in a fixed place. A laser is fired to project a 2D image into the gelatin. More layers of gelatin and bacteria are added to eventually stack them up into 3D structures. Once the structure is completed the bacteria can be fed nutrients and allowed to reproduce within a confined space to a controlled density. Other caged microcommunities can be put close enough together to allow them to signal to each other.
As this research progresses, it could eventually be used to find better ways to combat infection in humans which is a really important area of research at the moment.