Scientists uncover two-layer identification among soil bacteria

Bacteria recognize other bacteria through the cell surface receptor known as TraA and transfer cellular goods when touching via outer membrane exchange.
By Amy Wallace  |  Aug. 22, 2017 at 10:16 AM
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Aug. 22 (UPI) -- A new study by researchers at the University of Wyoming shows how soil bacteria require two-layer security to identify similar bacteria.

Similar to the digital world where two-factor authentication is required to verify identify, researchers found that the soil bacterium Myxococcus xanthus has been performing a similar task for millions of years.

Bacteria recognize other bacteria through the cell surface receptor known as TraA and transfer cellular goods when touching via outer membrane exchange, or OME.

"It's very important these cells know who they are cooperating with," Chris Vassallo, a University of Wyoming doctoral student, said in a press release. "They don't want to give beneficial treatment to another cell they are competing with if it's not their self. One way they do this is through toxin exchange."

In toxin exchange, cells exchange toxic proteins during OME. Proteins move from cell to cell devouring DNA or RNA if the cell is not immune, however, the cells don't die right away and are able to infect other cells first.

"If their identities don't match, they'll kill each other with the toxins," Vassallo said.

Researchers found that bacteria use a TraA receptor that is unique to a specific type of bacteria to make identification along with a second type of identification.

"The first layer is, 'Do you have a compatible TraA receptor?' If you do, you exchange components," Dan Wall, molecular biologist at the University of Wyoming, said. "Then the next layer is, 'Do you have immunity to the collection of toxins I'm going to give you using this exchange process?'"

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