When bacteria cause infection they utilize host nutrients for growth. The type and availability of nutrients found by pathogenic bacteria can influence their virulence but the mechanisms are not always understood. Burkholderia cenocepacia is a bacterium that causes infection in people with cystic fibrosis. B. cenocepacia can degrade phenylacetic acid, which increases its virulence. In collaboration with Dr. John Sorensen, we discovered that interruption of this pathway causes release of phenylacetic acid and inhibition of the quorum sensing response.
Some microorganisms can release phenylacetic acid while others can degrade it. We propose that phenylacetic acid can act as a signal molecule that regulates virulence in microbial communities.
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