Wants to manipulate bacteria not to make us sick

Bacteria OdontologPhD fellow Roger Junges at the Department of Oral Biology. Photo: Margit Selsjord, Faculty of Dentistry / UiO.

Wants to manipulate bacteria not to make us sick

Press Release (University of Oslo / NTB): Researchers at University of Oslo (UiO) map how streptococcal bacteria in the oral cavity communicate. It will be then be used to try to dissuade them from doing harm.


Some streptococci are harmless, while others can lead to disease, often severe illness. In his doctoral thesis, fellow Roger Junges has discovered significant communication characteristics of streptococcal bacteria which is the main cause of pneumonia: Streptococcus pneumoniae. It can also lead to other serious infections such as meningitis and blood poisoning, and is estimated to kill over one million people every year, most of whom are children under five.

Junges, together with his colleagues at the Institute for Oral Biology, has succeeded in identifying a new communication system that the bacterial species uses to conceal itself as protection. By communicating between themselves, S. pneumoniae produces capsules that they surround themselves as a form of armor, in their ultimate pursuit of survival.

If you can’t beat them, join them

Scientists believe that knowing the strategy the bacterium uses to protect themselves, they will eventually affect the protection strategy in the opposite direction, and hopefully outmaneuver the bacteria in the long run. Instead of finding strategies to penetrate the panzer, they use a more “diplomatic” approach in trying to influence communication.

– If we manage to understand how the bacteria interact and what they achieve by communicating as they do, it gives us a good starting point for developing methods that prevent infectious diseases such as pneumonia, or the spread of antibiotic resistance, explains Junges.

Antibiotics Resistance Result of Communication

Bacteria often communicate through the formation into biofilm, also known as “plaque”. They can also communicate through the exchange of genes, which just plays an important role in how the antibiotic resistance has become a serious threat to public health: Bacteria absorbs and is thus infected with resistant genes from other bacteria.

In his doctoral project, Junges has detected unknown factors in how three species of streptococcal bacteria regulate their procedures for absorbing DNA from the environment. In addition to S. pneumoniae, it also applies Streptococcus mitis and Streptococcus mutans – all bacterial species that are very much present in the oral cavity and upper respiratory tract.

– What we have found is better able to intervene in the bacterial communication systems, thus affecting them to behave differently. S. mutans for example is a bacterial species that is very essential in the development of caries, or tooth decay. Potentially, our findings can be further developed to counteract this disease, explains Junges, who himself is a dentist.

There is still a bit left until researchers can enter into the current bacterial communication and control it so that infectious bacteria are infected and those diseases can be halted.

– We have still made good progress, though and that makes it even more motivating to continue research in this field, the candidate emphasizes.


© NTB Scanpix / Norway Today