You don’t know them.
You don’t see them.
But they’re always around,
窃窃私语 制定秘密计划 组建数百万士兵的军队
whispering,making secret plans, building armies with millions of soldiers.
And when they decide to attack, they all attack at the same time.
I’m talking about bacteria.
Who did you think I was talking about?
Bacteria live in communitiesjust like humans.
它们有家庭 它们会交谈 计划它们的活动
They have families, they talk, and they plan their activities.
就像人类一样 它们耍小聪明 行骗
And just like humans, they trick, deceive,
and some might even cheat on each other.
What if I tell you that we can listen to bacterial conversations
and translate their confidentialinformation into human language?
And what if I tell you that translating bacterial conversations can save lives?
I hold a PHD in nanophysics,
and I’ve used nanotechnology to develop a real-time translation tool that can spy on bacterial communities
and give us recordingsof what bacteria are up to.
细菌无处不在 土壤中 家具里 我们的身体里都有
Bacteria live everywhere. They’re in the soil,on our furniture and inside our bodies.
In fact, 90 percent of all the live cells in this theater are bacterial.
Some bacteria are good for us, they help us digest food or produce antibiotics.
And some bacteria are bad for us, they cause diseases and death.
To coordinate allthe functions bacteria have,
they have to be able to organize,
and they do that just like us humans — by communicating.
But instead of using words,
they use signaling molecules to communicate with each other.
When bacteria are few, the signaling molecules just flow away,
like the screams of a manalone in the desert.
But when there are many bacteria,the signaling molecules accumulate,
and the bacteria start sensingthat they’re not alone.
They listen to each other.
In this way, they keep trackof how many they are
and when they’re many enoughto initiate a new action.
And when the signaling moleculeshave reached a certain threshold,
all the bacteria sense at oncethat they need to act with the same action.
So bacterial conversation consistsof an initiative and a reaction,
a production of a moleculeand the response to it.
In my research, I focused on spyingon bacterial communities inside the human body.
How does it work?
We have a sample from a patient.
It could be a blood or spit sample.
We shoot electrons into the sample,
the electrons will interact with anycommunication molecules present,
and this interaction will give us information on the identity of the bacteria,
the type of communication and how much the bacteria are talking.
But what is it likewhen bacteria communicate?
Before I developed the translation tool,
my first assumption was that bacteria would have a primitive language,
like infants that haven’t developed words and sentences yet.
笑时 代表快乐 哭时 代表悲伤
When they laugh, they’re happy;when they cry, they’re sad.
Simple as that.
But bacteria turned out to be nowhere as primitive as I thought they would be.
A molecule is not just a molecule.
It can mean different thingsdepending on the context,
just like the crying of babiescan mean different things:
sometimes the baby is hungry, sometimes it’s wet,
sometimes it’s hurt or afraid.
Parents know how to decode those cries.
And to be a real translation tool, it had to be able to decode the signaling molecules
and translate themdepending on the context.
And who knows?
Maybe Google Translatewill adopt this soon.
Let me give you an example.
我带来了一些 如果你没受过培训的话 可能有点难以理解的细菌数据
I’ve brought some bacterial data that can be a bit tricky to understand if you’re not trained.
But try to take a look.
Here’s a happy bacterial familythat has infected a patient.
Let’s call them the Montague family.
They share resources,they reproduce, and they grow.
一天 它们有了新邻居 凯普莱特细菌家族
One day, they get a new neighbor, bacterial family Capulet.
Everything is fine,as long as they’re working together.
But then something unplanned happens.
Romeo from Montague has a relationshipwith Juliet from Capulet.
And yes, they share genetic material.
Now, this gene transfer can be dangerous to the Montagues that have the ambition to
be the only family in the patient they have infected,
and sharing genes contributes to the Capulets developing resistance to antibiotics.
So the Montagues start talking internally to get rid of this other family by releasing this molecule.
And with subtitles: [Let us coordinate an attack.]
Let’s coordinate an attack.
And then everybody at once responds by releasing a poison that will kill the other family.
The Capulets respondby calling for a counterattack.
And they have a battle.
This is a video of real bacteriadueling with swordlike organelles,
where they try to kill each other by literally stabbing and rupturing each other.
Whoever’s family wins this battlebecomes the dominant bacteria.
So what I can do is to detect bacterial conversations that lead to different collective behaviors
like the fight you just saw.
And what I did was to spy on bacterial communities inside the human body in patients at a hospital.
I followed 62 patients in an experiment,
where I tested the patient samplesfor one particular infection,
without knowing the resultsof the traditional diagnostic test.
Now, in bacterial diagnostics, a sample is smeared out on a plate,
and if the bacteria grow within five days, the patient is diagnosed as infected.
When I finished the studyand I compared the tool results
to the traditional diagnostic testand the validation test, I was shocked.
It was far more astonishingthan I had ever anticipated.
But before I tell youwhat the tool revealed,
I would like to tell you about a specific patient I followed,
a young girl. She had cystic fibrosis,
a genetic disease that made her lungs susceptible to bacterial infections.
This girl wasn’t a partof the clinical trial.
I followed her because I knew from her medical record that she had never had an infection before.
每个月 这个女孩会来一次医院 在杯子里咳出唾液样本
Once a month, this girl went to the hospital to cough up a sputum sample that she spit in a cup.
This sample was transferred for bacterial analysis at the central laboratory
so the doctors could act quickly if they discovered an infection.
And it allowed me to test my device on her samples as well.
The first two months I measured on her samples, there was nothing.
But the third month, I discovered some bacterial chatter in her sample.
The bacteria were coordinatingto damage her lung tissue.
But the traditional diagnosticsshowed no bacteria at all.
I measured again the next month,
and I could see that the bacterial conversations became even more aggressive.
Still, the traditionaldiagnostics showed nothing.
My study ended, but a half a year later,
I followed up on her status to see if the bacteria only I knew about had disappeared without medical intervention.
But the girl was now diagnosedwith a severe infection of deadly bacteria.
It was the very same bacteriamy tool discovered earlier.
And despite aggressive antibiotic treatment, it was impossible to eradicate the infection.
Doctors deemed that she would notsurvive her 20s.
When I measured on this girl’s samples, my tool was still in the initial stage.
I didn’t even knowif my method worked at all,
therefore I had an agreementwith the doctors
not to tell them what my tool revealed in order not to compromise their treatment.
所以 当看到这些被证实的结果时 我没敢说
So when I saw these resultsthat weren’t even validated,I didn’t dare to tell,
because treating a patient without an actual infection
also has negativeconsequences for the patient.
But now we know better, and there are many young boys and girls that still can be saved,
because unfortunately,this scenario happens very often.
病人受到感染 不知道什么原因 细菌在传统的诊断测试中没有显示出来
Patients get infected, the bacteria somehow don’t show on the traditional diagnostic test,
and suddenly, the infection breaks out in the patient with severe symptoms.
And at that point, it’s already too late.
The surprising resultof the 62 patients I followed
was that my device caught bacterial conversations in more than half of the patient samples
that were diagnosed as negativeby traditional methods.
In other words, more than half of these patients went home thinking they were free from infection,
although they actually carried dangerous bacteria.
Inside these wrongly diagnosed patients, bacteria were coordinating a synchronized attack.
They were whispering to each other.
What I call”whispering bacteria” are bacteria that traditional methods cannot diagnose.
So far, it’s only the translation tool that can catch those whispers.
I believe that the time frame in which bacteria are still whispering is a window of opportunity for targeted treatment.
If the girl had been treatedduring this window of opportunity,
就可能在最初阶段 传染病失控前 杀死细菌
it might have been possible to kill the bacteria in their initial stage, before the infection got out of hand.
What I experienced with this young girl made me decide to do everything I can to push this technology into the hospital.
Together with doctors, I’m already working on implementing this tool in clinics to diagnose early infections.
Although it’s still not known how doctors should treat patients during the whispering phase,
this tool can help doctors keep a closer eye on patients in risk.
It could help them confirm if a treatment had worked or not,
and it could help answer simple questions:
Is the patient infected? And what are the bacteria up to?
细菌会说话 它们制定秘密计划 它们互相传递机密信息
Bacteria talk, they make secret plans, and they send confidential information to each other.
But not only can we catch them whispering,
we can all learn their secret language
and become ourselves bacterial whisperers.
正如细菌会发射“3 氧代 碳12 苯胺”信号分子
As bacteria would say, “3-oxo-C12-aniline.”