When biologists describe a brain cell firing, they often invoke a sizzle of electricity passing from cell to cell. This is because brain cells, or neurons, work by sending electric pulses. In fact, all of our nerve cells work by using electricity. For example, when we poke someone the nerves in our finger, arm, and spinal cord relay electricity from fingertip to brain. Those impulses tell us what the objects we’ve poked feel like.
What if bacteria are using electricity in the same way?
Multidrug resistant bacterial infections are a major biomedical problem. In the US, drug resistant bacteria infect more than 2 million people, resulting in over 20,000 deaths. For this reason, the development of new antibiotics that target these organisms is a priority for the pharmaceutical industry and government agencies.
Salmonella enterica is a bacterial pathogen notorious for causing food poisoning symptoms that are uncomfortable at best and deadly at worst. Infamously linked to raw eggs, it is the reason many of us were cruelly prevented from licking cake batter right off the spoon when we were younger. Many will also recognize S. enterica for its role in typhoid fever, an infection that is most prevalent in the developing world where sanitation is limited.