How we gave a bacterium new killing powers

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Let me tell you a new story of how we tried to manipulate a bacterium to use new toxins to kill other bacteria.

It all started in the very first weeks of me embarking on that PhD road back in 2014. Time’s flying when you’re having fun, right?!

My supervisor wanted me to mutate our house bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa and give it new killing powers. We thought that if we use the killing machine of this bacterium and make it fire even more toxic arrows, Pseudomonas might become the superstars between the arrow shooting bacteria.

But let’s recap quickly.

You remember the so-called type 6 secretion system that is this super cool killing machine in some bacteria? And how this machine looks more or less like a bow and arrow like in the picture below? When you look at the model of this arrow (in green), it does indeed have the shape of an arrow or a spike.

Before, I explained how some of these arrows are longer than others because they have so called extensions that can be toxins.

Well, we wanted to see whether we could use one of these arrows from our beloved bacterium and fuse any random extension to it. Then, we wanted to check whether our bacterium can use and fire this modified arrow with extension. The idea was, if the modified arrow would behave the same as the “normal” non-modified arrow, we might have found a way to manipulate bacteria to shoot any kind of arrow we want.

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How we gave a bacterium new killing powers

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Sarah Wettstadt

Science Writer, MicroComms