Cells communicate with each other in the language of chemistry; but cells from dissimilar kingdoms, like yeast and bacteria, speak dialects that are virtually unintelligible to one another. Researchers anticipate controlling microbial behavior to protect against disease by learning how they “talk.”
Efforts like this are still in their infancy, but researchers recently described the first system that allows two unrelated organisms to communicate. The study was published in ACS’ Nano Letters.
Many cells send and receive chemical signals. This system enables fungi to mate, bacteria to control their behavior, and human cells to alert each other of threats. This kind of chemical communication has inspired scientists to design their own ways to join these conversations so they can instruct the cells.
Even though micro- or nano-scale particles that communicate with one kind of cell have been investigated in some works, the use of particles to allow communication between two different kinds of cells has not been explored.
Antoni Llopis-Lorente, Ramón Martínez-Máñez, and co-workers intended to develop a nano-scale translating device that enables them to send a chemical signal between members of two different kingdoms of life. This rarely occurs in the natural world.
The nanotranslator was created using silica nanoparticles that were loaded with two molecules: one that reacts with glucose and another called phleomycin. They built a signaling system that had two steps that they tested separately before placing together.
The researchers started by exposing E. coli to lactose, which set off a signal. Lactose was converted to glucose by the bacteria, which then reacted with the nanotranslator. The device then released phleomycin, a different messenger compound. The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae identified the phleomycin and responded by fluorescing, as genetically engineered.
Similar nanotranslator-based communication systems could have a wide range of applications, according to the researchers. These devices could, for instance, be used to tell cells to turn off some processes and turn on others, or to change the activity of human immune cells to treat disease, they added.
The authors acknowledge financial support from the Spanish Government and the Generalitat Valenciana.
de Luis, B., et al. (2022) Nanoprogrammed Cross-Kingdom Communication Between Living Microorganisms. Nano Letters. doi.org/10.1021/acs.nanolett.1c02435.