Size matters: for bacteria, smaller is better for causing superbug infections


Scientists from the University of Sheffield's Faculty of Science have discovered a new insight into how one of the most common hospital superbugs causes infections – something which could be used to develop new antibiotic treatments.

The study, led by researchers from the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (MBB), investigated how Enterococcus faecalis – bacteria commonly found in the digestive tracts of humans and multi-resistant to antibiotics – can out-compete other microorganisms and cause life-threatening infections.

E. faecalis is frequently responsible for causing hospital-acquired infections such as urinary tract infections, heart valve infections and bacteraemia, however scientists currently have a poor understanding of how this happens.

Now, the MBB team has discovered several complex mechanisms controlling the maintenance of the distinctive shape of E. faecalis that forms cell pairs or short chains of cells.

The MBB team has revealed that the formation of short chains of cells is a crucial factor in stopping bacteria being recognised as a threat by the immune system. This then enables infection to spread.

Dr Stéphane Mesnage, who led the research from the University of Sheffield, said: “E. faecalis is an opportunistic pathogen. It is naturally resistant to a wide range of antibiotics, including synthetic penicillin derivatives. Following an antibiotic treatment, E. faecalis can out-compete other microorganisms to cause infection. Our work suggests that targeting the mechanisms controlling the formation of short chains of cells could be a novel strategy for developing new treatments to fight E. faecalis infections.”

To read more about this research, please visit the PLOS Pathogens website.