Unleashing Big Potential from Small Bacteria

weibel_hero_vertEven though scientists have studied them extensively, there is still a lot we don’t yet know about bacteria. The biggest issue is how small they are. Individually, their size makes them difficult to observe under a microscope. But biochemistry professor Doug Weibel is optimistic about what they can teach us.

He, along with his team, is developing exciting new methods for studying and understanding questions like how bacterial cells reproduce and communicate. Understanding these questions can unlock discoveries that could advance the field of pharmaceuticals and treatments for everyone.

It starts by understanding how single-celled bacteria form colonies (or swarms) that effectively function as one entity. Moving smoothly in a sort of groupthink, these tight knit communities of bacteria can achieve levels of sophistication previously unheard of. Using a tool they’ve dubbed “The Waffle” because of its squares that segment bacterial communities, Professor Weibel and his team can study how these communities form, and most importantly how they communicate. He has found that bacterial chemical signaling is far more complex than previously thought.

One of the exciting applications of the team’s research involves pharmaceutical development. Working with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the team is busily screening bacterial compounds against a variety of potential targets. The studies could lead to new antibiotics, drug patents, and possibly lifesaving treatments. All because one scientist believes that there are no limitations to what we can achieve when we combine curiosity with persistence.