Tracking the Chemical Footprints of Bacteria

9 March, 2017

We all know that green leafy vegetables, seafood, meat, dairy, cereals and even mushrooms, almonds and vegemite are all healthy for us. One essential ingredient in them is vitamin B2 (riboflavin) that enriches our immune system. But did you know that bacteria in our bodies also make this vitamin?

Scientists at the Universities of Queensland, Melbourne and Monash recently learned that when bacteria produce this vitamin, they leave behind a trail of chemical footprints that are invisible under microscopes and vanish in minutes. Two chemists at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, Dr Jeff Mak and Dr Ligong Liu, have now made these chemicals in a testube.

Dr Mak said “Certain white blood cells in our immune system act like sniffer dogs in finding these footprints and chasing after bacteria to destroy them”. Dr Liu said “Our immune cells can find just a few molecules in a trillion (1,000,000,000,000) of these chemical footprints”. “By learning how to make these trace chemicals from bacteria, scientists around the world now have new tools to find even traces of infection in our body and new clues to fight disease”, added team leader Professor David Fairlie.

The work published this week in Nature Communications was supported by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.