Bacteria can don 'temporary disguises' to make themselves resistant to antibiotics
Bacteria can don a temporary 'disguise' to avoid being detected by antibiotics, scientists say.
Researchers believe their study is the first to show that bacteria can change form in the human body, hiding the cell wall inside themselves.
The cell wall is often the antibiotic target, so concealing it means antibiotics have no target, providing a potential cause of resistance.
Scientists from Newcastle University used state-of-the art techniques to analyse samples from elderly patients with recurring urinary tract infections (UTI).
"Imagine that the wall is like the bacteria wearing a high-vis jacket," said lead author, Dr Katarzyna Mickiewicz.
"This gives them a regular shape, for example a rod or a sphere, making them strong and protecting them but also makes them highly visible, particularly to human immune system and antibiotics like penicillin.
"What we have seen is that in the presence of antibiotics, the bacteria are able to change from a highly regular walled form to a completely random, cell wall-deficient L-form state - in effect, shedding the yellow jacket and hiding it inside themselves.
"In this form the body can't easily recognise the bacteria so doesn't attack them, and neither do antibiotics," according to Dr Mickiewicz, in the research published in the 'Nature Communications' journal.