Researchers Analyzed the Way Bacteria Form Colonies on Our Tongues

New research showcases numerous communities of bacteria that live across our tongue, similar to human cities that organize in groups of different purposes.

For instance, the spherical Streptococci species that love oxygen thrives around the external areas of the tongue, where they have a higher exposure to air. The stick-shaped Actinomyces ​lives closer to the epithelial cell center. Other bacteria groups, such as Rothia, are rather found away from these areas.

“What was really a surprise was to see how organized they were. It tells us a lot about how they are working together,” microbial ecologist Jessica Mark Welch, from the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, explained to Smithsonian Magazine.

As per Mark Welch, the exterior ring of Streptococci​ appears to create a low-oxygen region in the inner part of this bacterial zone, which is taken by species who thrive in such conditions. The bacteria eliminate protective traces of slime, together creating an affluent, densely crowded biofilm in our tongues.

“Bacteria behave differently in a biofilm,” explained Mark Welch. “There are parts of their metabolism; they only turn on in a biofilm, and they tend to be more resistant to antibiotics and changes in the environment.”

Image: Wilbert et al., Cell Reports, 2020

What the image showcase is only a small amount of more than 700 different species of bacteria that is present in our mouths at all times. Groups found on our tongue are largely different from those living in other regions of our mouths, like on our teeth. Although researchers discovered specific species of bacteria ​differed between people, the general structure of their groups was found to be consistent.

“Bacteria on the tongue are a lot more than just a random pile. They are more like an organ of our bodies,” Harvard University cellular biologist Gary Borisy explained.

By analyzing the way these bacteria ​organize themselves, scientists can understand more about their engagements, the way they function, and the roles they play within our bodies.

Their research has been published in the journal Cell Reports.​

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