Bacteria Can Use Fungi as Bridges

Posted on January 7, 2012

Bacteria Fungal Bridge

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have discovered that bacteria and fungi enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship. Fungal spores can "hitch a ride" on bacteria by attaching themselves to the bacteria. Bacteria can also use fungi as a bridge, as seen in the photograph above.

Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob of TAU's Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy says, "The bacteria entrap the spores and wrap them in their flagella, which are like arms. This is similar to the way the Lilliputians moved the giant Gulliver by trapping him in a mesh of ropes."

Bacteria can also use fungal spores to form a bridge when faced with a gap. Prof. Ben-Jacob explains that bacteria live largely in the rhizosphere - the environment that surrounds plant roots - where air pockets can interrupt their progress. One way bacteria can cross the gap is by dropping fungal spores that have attached to them into the chasm to form a bridge. In an experiment, the researchers created air gaps or "canyons" too large for bacteria to cross. When confronted with this challenge, the bacteria used the fungi's mycelia - branch-like structures on the spores - as natural bridges, enabling them to cross otherwise impenetrable gaps

These observations can also be applied to agriculture and medicine, showing new mechanisms by which bacteria and fungi can help one another to invade new territories in the rhizosphere as well as in hospitals and in human bodies.

Prof. Ben-Jacob says, "We now know that when you fight fungi, you are also fighting bacteria - and vice versa."

Photo: Colin Ingham/American Friends of Tel Aviv University (AFTAU)

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