Ten New Defense Systems in Bacteria – A Major BreakThrough

What is a Defense System?

The defense system is a system adopted by living organisms to inhibit the growth of other organisms in their body. Bacteria are no exception for this. They are attacked by some special types of the virus called bacteriophages. They take over the machinery of the bacterial cells to form their own components. Thus the working metabolism for the life support of the bacteria gets inhibited. The bacteria are finally got killed by the virus particles which burst open the bacterial cells and come out to infect new bacteria. Bacteria have developed a mechanism of protecting them against the invasion of virus in the form of defense mechanisms.

Some of the bacteria protect themselves against the bacteriophages by a system called Antiphage Protective System. The most common of these systems is CRISPR. The full form of CRISPR is ‘clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats’. It deals with a mechanism involving special stretches of DNA which in turn are responsible for the formation of CRISPR-derived RNA and various defense proteins is known as Cas9 proteins. These act as molecular scissors and chop the DNA of foreign invaders. It also has spacers which keep the memory of the invading virus which enables them to recognize the virus and defend the bacteria against future attacks of these viruses. Thus CRISPR play an important role in developing immunity in bacteria.

What are the Ten New Defense Systems Used by Bacteria?

According to prominent researchers of the world in microbiology, only about 40% of the bacteria have the CRISPR system for tackling bacteriophages. So, the scientists are discovering new defense mechanisms in bacteria for defending themselves against viruses. A team of microbial scientists led by Dr. Rotem Sorek from Israel is working on this project. They have researched about 45000 microbial strains for their immunological responses. They worked on special genes called defense-related genes which are found mostly in rare microbes found at the bottom of the oceans.

They took these genes out and inserted into model experimental bacteria like Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis. They studied the bacterial response against the attack of the virus when these particular genes were deleted. They discovered ten groups of these defense genes. Nine groups of these genes protected against the attack of bacteriophages while the tenth group protected against the plasmids which are another source of foreign DNA but from other bacteria and not the virus.

The new Antiphage Protective System has been named after mythological protective deities like Zorya, a pair of goddesses from Slavic mythology. This system has been termed as the root system for the development of the immune system in higher organisms. These genes also contained DNA fragments which form innate immune systems in many complex living organisms. The research is still going on the working mechanism of these genes. As CRISPR genes are used in biotechnological applications and studies, these new groups of genes are also studied for their use in molecular biotechnology.

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