Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria responsible for causing tooth decay, are able to survive and multiply without an essential biochemical pathway that is considered vital for the survival of normal cells.
Researchers at the University of Florida have revealed that the tooth decay causing bacteria can carry out its destructive work without this pathway. "We were met with skepticism ... because the dogma was that this biochemical pathway is the key for all living cells," commented Jeannine Brady, Ph.D., a co-author of the study and an associate professor of oral biology at the UF College of Dentistry. "As far as we know, this is the first example of any bacteria that can cope without this pathway; all of the existing literature indicated it is vital." The pathway known as signal recognition particle, or SRP, pathway is vital for the production of proteins, which ultimately protect the cell. "Really, we started with a very basic question related primarily to S. mutans, 'how does this bacteria tolerate acid?'" said Brady. "Asking that question has opened the door much more widely to learning things that are more fundamental about how living organisms insert proteins and how membrane function is determined by proteins."
Tooth decay is caused when these bacteria thrive in acidic environment and begin to attack and dissolve the enamel. The above study proves that S.mutans can survive without vital pathways, something that is not seen in any other bacteria. The study is reported in this month's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
University of Florida