Around 50% of women will experience a painful urinary tract infection (UTI) during their lifetime. UTIs arise when bacteria travel through the urethra to the bladder, where they can multiply. The most common cause is the bacterium Escherichia coli, which normally lives in our digestive canal. It latches itself onto the tract’s lining using miniature, tightly coiled ‘tentacles’ called pili, strong enough to defy the force of urine flow, and enabling E. coli to linger and cause infection. Pictured is an experimental model of a pilus (with its atomic structure shown in green), which is helping researchers to understand more about the molecular interactions that take place between pili and urinary tract, and how E. coli can survive the harsh force that a stream of urine creates. With this closer look comes the chance to discover new ways of tackling and preventing UTIs.
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