May29

Hungry caterpillars provide clues to role of diet in fighting infection

When an animal or plant becomes infected with a pathogen, such as a bacterium, there are several possible outcomes: the pathogen ‘wins’ and the host dies of the infection; the host wins and the infection is defeated by the host’s immune system; or there is something akin to a draw and the host is forced to live with a chronic infection. But what determines which of these outcomes occurs?

We know that what the host eats is very important and that on some diets the host wins and on others it loses. But is this because the favourable diet contains the correct balance of nutrients to support the host’s immune system, or does it survive because the diet is unsuitable for pathogen growth, or is it a combination of the two?

To answer these question, a team from Lancaster University led by BBSRC-funded Professor Ken Wilson, are ‘deconstructing’ the host-pathogen interaction between Spodoptera caterpillars and Xenorhabdus bacteria.

By feeding the caterpillars different diets and then looking at how that affects the within-host  bacterial growth rate, they hope to better understand how diet affects infectious disease and to develop strategies for improving diets for ill animals and ultimately people.

Top image: Growth of the bacterium Xenorhabdus nematophila on agar plates (foreground) and fluorescent green X. nematophila under light microscope (background). Credit: Joanna Randall & Kenneth Wilson.

Middle three images: Dilution series of bacteria on agar plates – inset left: growth curves of bacteria in media differing in nutritional compositions. Inset right: rate of growth of bacteria in media differing in relative amounts of sugars (horizontal axis) and amino acids (vertical axis) – the hotter the colour, the higher the bacterial growth rate. Credit: Joanna Randall & Kenneth Wilson.

Bottom image: Spodoptera littoralis caterpillar on a sunflower plant. Credit: Kenneth Wilson.

For more science news go to: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/news/news-index.aspx

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