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Science

Bacteria-Killing Viruses Wield an Iron Spike 97

Posted by Soulskill
from the isn't-it-ironic dept.
sciencehabit writes "Scientists have long known that a group of viruses called bacteriophages have a knack for infiltrating bacteria and that some begin their attack with a protein spike. But the tip of this spike is so small that no one knew what it was made of or exactly how it worked. Now a team of researchers has found a single iron atom at the head of the spike, a discovery that suggests phages enter bacteria in a different way than surmised (abstract)."
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Bacteria-Killing Viruses Wield an Iron Spike

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  • by Gideon Wells (1412675) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @12:14AM (#39193689)

    So, now that we have confirmation that viruses have discovered and now use iron weapons expect this to be the latest Syfy movie.

    • by cshark (673578)
      There really is nothing better than cheesy sci fi movies about nonsense. I'm glad this delicate art form survives in America. If it didn't we would be stuck with depressing European dystopias and Middle Eastern zombie movies. No thanks.
      • by moogaloonie (955355) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @04:05AM (#39194845)
        I think dumb stuff can actually improve your cognitive skills if you approach it properly. I hadn't thought about gravity like I should've until I saw how wrong everything was in the Star Trek reboot. I gained an understanding about something without taking in any new information simply by seeing how it was depicted so clearly wrong that I had to reconcile (almost) every notion I held about about gravity. Similarly, American politics never made sense to me until I understood how professional wrestling is booked, scripted, canonized, and repeated or redacted right in front of the audience.
    • by MachDelta (704883) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @12:30AM (#39193791)

      300 microns: the movie
      Starring Gerard Butler as the voice of Bacterionidas
      and Michael Fassbender as Infectillios
      with Lena Headey as Queen Gorgorrhea
      and Rodrigo Santoro as X3/rX35 the God-Virus
      Featuring amazing microscopy effects which seamlessly switch between 4000x 10,000x and 16,000x views in mid action sequence!
      Coming this summer!

      "Tonight, we dine in the lower digestive tract!"

      • by zixxt (1547061)

        300 microns: the movie
        Starring Gerard Butler as the voice of Bacterionidas
        and Michael Fassbender as Infectillios
        with Lena Headey as Queen Gorgorrhea
        and Rodrigo Santoro as X3/rX35 the God-Virus
        Featuring amazing microscopy effects which seamlessly switch between 4000x 10,000x and 16,000x views in mid action sequence!
        Coming this summer!

        "Tonight, we dine in the lower digestive tract!"

        Bravo Sir, Bravo!

      • You forgot "This is madness!" "Madness? THIS... IS... THE CERVIX!"
    • by Culture20 (968837)
      Tool use alone is not sufficient to claim sentience, unless the writers need the virus to be sentient.
  • I want one!
    • by NFN_NLN (633283)

      But the tip of this spike is so small that no one knew what it was made of or exactly how it worked.

      Sounds like Bucky Larson's dick...

    • you already have them.. certainly in your stomach, and depending on your hygiene, maybe elsewhere too :P

  • Awww (Score:4, Funny)

    by Aerorae (1941752) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @12:23AM (#39193755)
    I always liked to fantasize it was a wooden one...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @12:23AM (#39193759)
    Pay attention, folks. Important things are going on. Our understanding of matter at the atomic level is improving daily. We will have a model of how matter organizes itself into life. Eventually, we'll be able to theoretically (not just empirically) understand the immensly complex goings-on of a single cell, then how cells work as a human being. We'll have much better control of diseases including aging.

    It's a bright future for people who like life. People who are happy with their handful of decades followed by decline and don't have the courage to live longer can ignore these things.

    • by argStyopa (232550)

      "People who are happy with their handful of decades followed by decline and don't have the courage to live longer can ignore these things."

      Who, exactly, are these people?

      I'm just curious that you believe some people are actually AFRAID to live longer? That's a curious worldview and I wonder where it comes from?

      • by PhilHibbs (4537) <snarks@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @10:35AM (#39196979) Homepage Journal

        I don't want to live for ever. The great thing about life is, there is so much of it. Trillions of humans have lived, and that's a wonderful thing. I hope that trillions more will live after me. This cannot happen if we live for ever, in which case those trillions will never have a chance at life. We'll be clinging on to the earth, and throwing down the ladders and stepping on the fingers of those that would follow us as we grow older and meaner and more jealous of the lives that we have stolen.

        I want live my life, and then I will slip into the void and let others live theirs. And that fills me with joy, not fear.

        • by AdrianKemp (1988748) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @11:19AM (#39197539)

          There are enough resources in the universe to support an effectively limitless expansion of the human race.

          • by PhilHibbs (4537)

            I used to think that, but it's become clear that the effort to make use of those resources is staggering. I just don't think it will happen. Especially, it won't happen if the entire human race gets old and stuck in its ways. Young minds are the most creative, and if we abolish youth...

            • Well that's an interesting question: whether the stuck in their ways is due to having experienced years of life or being angry at young people because of what they've lost.

              However, as far as physical age is concerned, all evidence points to any biological immortality coming with/from a lack of aging. Specifically lab tests with telomerase shows reversal of physical age in mice, and similar in jellyfish. Any digital form of immortality will probably come with a vast reduction in power requirements vs. a biol

              • by PhilHibbs (4537)

                Any digital form of immortality will probably come with a vast reduction in power requirements vs. a biological immortality and would also do away with any physical limitations as well as expanding the available neural network space (to an effectively limitless value)

                I'm not convinced about digital immortality either. Why would I care if there is a computer simulation out there that thinks that it is me? I know, "human consciousness isn't what it thinks it is", and all that. I am aware of the arguements on both sides, I just haven't made up "my mind" about it, with all due caveats.

                • Oh I get that, I'm not entirely over the thats-not-me hurdle myself... but I'd pull the trigger anyways if it were available.

                  I think though that I should have cleared up my argument from the start; I was only going against your issue with resources. I really don't think (with a helping of hope) that there is a problem there.

                  As to the comment that you were originally replying to (not mine) saying that any right-minded person wanting immortality - I'm not one to force my opinions or beliefs on others. I'm not

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Then how do you feel about the fact that we live longer and better than before? Are you against doctors washing their hands after autopsies before helping women give birth? For the vast majority of human history, many infants died before the age of 1. Are you against vaccines? After all, we gotta make room for all these "trillions" of other people! BTW, your math is WAY off.

          http://www.prb.org/Articles/2002/HowManyPeopleHaveEverLivedonEarth.aspx

          But I don't expect too much rationality out of a deathoid nutter

      • by Thing 1 (178996)

        Who, exactly, are these people?

        "These people" include my religious relatives. They have ensured that my grandfather and uncle can never return, by cremating them instead of freezing. I would have gladly paid for the freezing so that I could potentially experience their presence again. But noooo, "God doesn't like that" (code for "I don't like that"), so it didn't happen.

    • by Dutchmaan (442553)

      Pay attention, folks. Important things are going on. Our understanding of matter at the atomic level is improving daily. We will have a model of how matter organizes itself into life. Eventually, we'll be able to theoretically (not just empirically) understand the immensly complex goings-on of a single cell, then how cells work as a human being. We'll have much better control of diseases including aging.

      It's a bright future for people who like life. People who are happy with their handful of decades followed by decline and don't have the courage to live longer can ignore these things.

      "During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them."

      Sorry, I just couldn't help but think of that line when I read it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Brandon Sanderson is on to something.

  • by jmichaelg (148257) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @12:29AM (#39193789) Journal

    A single iron atom isn't going to much of a sword. Iron swords work because the iron atoms support each other.

    A lone iron atom might do something chemically like pretend to be a heme molecule to bypass the bacteria's defenses.

    • by exploder (196936) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @12:32AM (#39193809) Homepage

      TFA says specifically that, although scientists expected something like what you describe, the iron atom is in fact forming a sharp point that mechanically penetrates the membrane.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @12:38AM (#39193857)

        Except the iron atom isn't at the exact point, it's within the point and seems to serve as an anchor around which are an oxahedral cluster of folds wrap.

        The key is that the iron ion allows the creation of a structure which won't unfold as it penetrates.

    • by maroberts (15852)

      Hmm, but with the continual fight against phages using antibiotics, how long is it before one of them gets an upgrade from their iron 'sword' into Stormbringer [wikipedia.org] :-)

    • by mmontour (2208)

      The picture in the abstract shows where the iron ion is located. It's not at the very tip of the spike. It's a bit further back, holding a few protein pieces together.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Not quite, the entire tip (the pink in the image) is essentially sharpened by a single centrally positioned iron atom with the proteins behind it. Think of a bunch of copper threads hanging out at the end of a wire (the wire being the protein), those threads hang loosely and are not really rigid, but add a blob of soldering iron to join them together and they become much more rigid.

    • A single iron atom isn't going to much of a sword.

      Maybe they're fighting Elven bacteria.

      • by azalin (67640)
        The image of little bacterial cells with pointy ears and tiny bows really made me smile.
    • by durrr (1316311)

      A single molecule edge cuts good.
      A monofilament is the holy grail of sci-fi slicing.
      A single-atom pointy stick have to be the ultimate stabbing device by the same line of reasoning.

      Although you are probably right, bacteria usually have various mechanisms for accumulating iron from the enviroment, to the point where the body decreases availible iron as a response to infection. So an iron bait could potentially make the bacteria actively spread their cheeks to the phages.

  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @12:32AM (#39193807) Homepage

    So not only do bacteria use tools, but crafted iron tools at that?
    It is amazing what a sped up life cycle and evolution can do.

    Strange that is is iron, on a single atom level it would not be any tougher then the other elements.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They tried copper but someone kept steeling them to sale for scrap.

    • Re:Tools (Score:5, Funny)

      by MooseByte (751829) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @01:03AM (#39194003)
      It's worse than that. Now that the bacteriophages have achieved Iron Age upgrades, they can develop Archery and Siege Workshop. If they research Ballistics and deploy enough Helepolis units, they will become unstoppable...
    • by snowgirl (978879)

      Crap... now they can use the iron spikes to harvest diamonds, and then start building diamond spikes!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      What are you talking about? Iron is a metal and metals are per definition *softer* than other elements, not tougher. Indeed, the most metallic elements (Li, Na, K, Cs, Rb) can easily be cut with a butter knife (though you should take care with Cs and Rb).

      If you want tough you have to look at ceramics.

      Now hand over your geek card and learn some elementary chemistry. Sheeeesh!

  • This proves once and for all my theory that bacteria are not werewolves OR vampires!

  • Sounds like the viruses discovered...
    Maiden! Maiden! Maiden!

    Never in a thousand years thought I'd have a reason to write that on slashdot.

  • So that's the medieval viruses. What did the stone-age viruses use?

    Are Iranian viruses trying to obtain nuclear weapons? That might leave a mark.

    • by sjwt (161428)

      Its worse then that, the article says its 'bound iron' that sounds like its an advanced iron alloy, it might be more advanced than Damascus steel.

  • ...once during a dinner out with friends, I said something stupid*, and my wife dug her pointy metal heel into my foot under the table out of sight. People looked at my contorted expression and were thinking WTF?

    * Not uncommon

    • Do you know what it's like to fall in the mud and get kicked... in the head... with an iron boot? Of course you don't, no one does. It never happens. Sorry, Tablizer, that's a dumb question... skip that.

  • Those aren't spikes! Those are Iron Grips! The brand bacteriophages prefer.
  • It seems to me that some medical person once explained to me something similar in the way the HIV virus works. Pierces some sort of cell and injects it's DNA, causes the injected cell to create more HIV, and so on.... It's been years since I heard this explanation, so maybe I have it wrong. Then again, maybe there's some sort of tie-in?

    If nothing else, it appears the Iron Age began on Earth earlier than we were taught in history class... Just not by humans.

  • Outlaw iron spikes and the only virii that will have iron spikes will be criminals phages!

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @07:32AM (#39195599) Journal
    It could be used to deliver antibiotics directly into the bacteria. That would enable us to develop a new class of drugs.
  • by Pax681 (1002592) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @08:26AM (#39195881)
    i remember seeing a TV Documentary on bacteriophage years ago. it was very interesting indeed.
    using the search string "bacteriophages + Russia [google.com]" will give you endless results and show that since Stalin's time this has been used there
    one thing that was a surprise to learn from the documentary is that they seem to all be pretty much in sewage and then extracted and cultured from there.
    they then test each strain of bacteriophage against an array of nasties and see which one that particular "phage" is effective against
    it brings a whole new meaning to "being in the shit"
  • No lasers?

  • I know the Russians were especially interested in this technique. The antibiotic era is not that old: there are still plenty of people now alive born before antibiotics were common. And there is some talk talk of reviving phage technology due to the declining effectiveness of antibiotics as bacteria evolve resistance.

"You don't go out and kick a mad dog. If you have a mad dog with rabies, you take a gun and shoot him." -- Pat Robertson, TV Evangelist, about Muammar Kadhafy

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