Bacteria can develop strong immunity for protection against viruses

Credit: Dr Tim Blower, Durham University
A team of bioscientists at Durham University, UK has launched a new study to explore newly characterized defense mechanisms in bacteria. This will allow researchers to compare human genome changes with those of Northumbria University, University of Liverpool and New England Biolabs.

Durham University undergraduates have been involved in this research as well to show the complexity of bacterial innate immune system.

Bacteria have developed a variety of defense mechanisms to defend themselves against viruses known as bacteriophages. Many of these systems are already useful biotechnological tools such as gene editing where minor changes can be made to the target genome.

Researchers demonstrated that the two defense systems work together to protect bacteria against bacteriophages.

One system protected bacteria against bacteriophages, which did not have any DNA modifications.

To bypass this defense system, some bacteriophages alter their DNA. BrxU provided a second defense system that protected bacteria against modified DNA.

To better understand BrxU's protection against bacteriophages with modified genetic DNA, the researchers created a 3D model of BrxU.

BrxU could be another useful tool in biotechnology because the DNA modifications BrxU recognizes are present throughout the human genome and can alter in cancer and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Credit: Dr Tim Blower, Durham University

Dr. Tim Blower is the senior author of the study and an Associate Professor in Durham University's Department of Biosciences. He said that "being able to recognize modified DNA was crucial" as similar modifications can be found throughout the human genome.

"This additional layer of information, called the "epigenome", changes as we grow and can also change in cases of cancer or neurodegenerative diseases.

"If BrxU can be developed as a biotechnological instrument for mapping this epigenome it will transform our understanding about the adaptive information controlling growth and disease progression."

The journal Nucleic Acids Research published the study results of Dr. David Picton (lead author) and his co-workers.

This work involved 97 undergraduates who were finishing their BSc/MBiol degrees at Durham University's Department of Biosciences.

They were part of a Microbiology Workshop that provides research-led teaching and were given the task of isolating new bacteriaophages to study. Although these bacteriophages don't cause any harm to humans, they are able to help bacteria develop their own immune systems to protect them from infection.

The River Wear, College Ponds and other waterways in Durham were used to collect bacteriophages. These were used to test the bacteriophage's innate immunity against E.coli bacteria.

Information: Nucleic Acids research (2021). Information from Nucleic Acids Research: "The phage defense island of a multidrug-resistant plasmid uses both BREX as well as type IV restriction for complementary protection against viruses," (2021). DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkab906