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In a recent study Indiana University biologist Farrah Bashey-Visser has been researching an apparent microscopic war between microorganisms.
The study focuses on the various interactions between certain microorganisms and their implications to human health. Health experts have long been concerned about bacteria evolving to resist drugs and antibiotics but Bashey-Visser’s research exposes a different, related concern. Certain bacteria are not just evolving to resist human medicine, they are also evolving to compete with each other. This means that medical science may need to catch up to offending bacteria as it evolves.
“We have one microbe who can attack another microbe but then resistance can evolve to that attack,” Bashey-Visser said. “In another context maybe not attacking is a better strategy. So I’m trying to understand how these internal dynamics can maintain diversity and this would apply to all sorts of organisms.”
The study also explores the possibility of using certain bacteria commonly known as probiotics to advance medical science. One example of this is the fecal transplant where stool samples are placed from one patient into another to restore healthy microorganisms. A practice that reportedly has a 90 percent success rate at curing patients.
Bashey-Visser believes there are also similar practices to be explored. She says that they have seen where microbes can be used to compete with one another and therefore inhibit the development of diseases.
“Sometimes when you have two microbes fighting with each other the disease progresses (more slowly),” she said. “And so this is a way in which it could be beneficial. The microbes, in competing with each other, are less effective at exploiting the host.”
“There’s been some thoughts about using these microbial interactions as a way to treat diseases. That’s at a beginning stage.”
Doctor Farrah Bashey-Visser is an Assistant Scientist in Biology and lecturer in human Biology at Indiana University. Her research is supported in part by a grant from the Division of Environmental Biology at the National Science Foundation.