Some bacteria go off to "sleep" to prevent themselves from being attacked by antibiotics which can fight only those bugs which are metabolically active.
A new research, led by Thomas Wood, professor of chemical engineering at the Texas A&M University, details this surreptitious and elaborate survival mechanism of the bugs.
"Through our research, we're understanding that some bacteria go to 'sleep', and that antibiotics only work on bacteria that are metabolically active," Wood explains in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.
"You need actively growing bacteria to be susceptible to antibiotics. If the bacterium goes to sleep, the antibiotics are not effective because the bacterium is no longer doing the thing that the antibiotic is trying to shut down," Wood adds.
"A small community of bacteria is in a sense hedging its bet against a threat to its survival by taking another approach," Wood says, according to a Texas statement.
"To the bacteria, this is always a numbers game. In one milliliter, you can have a trillion bacterial cells, and they don't always do the same thing under stress.
"If we can determine that this 'going to sleep' is the dominant mechanism utilized by bacteria, then we can begin to figure out how to 'wake them up' so that they will be more susceptible to the antibiotic.
This ideally would include simultaneously applying the antibiotic and a chemical that wakes up the bacteria. That's the goal - a more effective antibiotic."