JMM Editor’s Choice: the role of lipids in cellular invasion

Posted on August 11, 2021   by Microbiology Society

In this blog, Dr Arunaloke Chakrabarti discusses ‘The role of lipid droplets in microbial pathogenesis’ which he selected as Editor’s Choice in the Journal of Medical Microbiology after its publication in June.

Of all the macromolecules in the living world, lipids have remained enigmatic for a long time and evaded the attention of the scientific research community, considering them as innocent bystanders with a possible role in energy storage for tiding over crises. In the last decade or so, lipids have bounced back in attracting attention, more so in the eukaryotic and man, for their role in metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus and many other conditions. The current study nicely summarises available knowledge on the role of lipids in micro-organisms as an active participant in many physiological processes with their pathogenic potential in viral replication, bacterial nutrition and biofilm production, accumulation of antibiotics and extracellulr toxins, immunomodulation and stimulates the reader for further research in the area. 

The role of lipid droplets in microbial pathogenesis 

Lipids (fats) are stored in many cells inside lipid droplets, which are surrounded by membranes, containing distinctive proteins. These lipid droplets are not only energy storage sites, but play roles in many cellular processes, including the interaction between host cells and a range of infecting microbes. This paper summarises our knowledge on the formation of lipid droplets, the role they play during infection by viruses (including SARS-CoV-2), bacteria (such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa), yeasts (especially Candida species) and parasites (such as Plasmodium falciparum, which causes malaria) and highlights the potential of lipid droplets as targets for novel antimicrobial drugs. 

We spoke with the corresponding author Carolina Pohl-Albertyn to find out more: 

What is your institution and how long have you been there? 

I am at the University of the Free State, which is situated in Bloemfontein, the capital of a rural province in the centre of South Africa. I have been a member of the faculty here for 21 years. 

What is your research area?  

My main research area is pathogenic yeasts and I currently hold an NRF SARChI Research Chair in pathogenic yeasts. One of the focus areas within this field is the production and role of bioactive lipid molecules by pathogenic yeasts.

What inspired you to research this topic?  

I was inspired by one of my lecturers in an undergraduate class many years ago, who talked about the biotechnological potential of yeast lipids. During my postgraduate studies I soon realised that these lipids can be more than potential energy sources and was drawn to their role in pathogenic yeasts. As my research expanded over the years it became clear that bioactive lipids do not just play a role in yeast infections, but are actually ubiquitous role players in almost all types of infection.  

What is the most rewarding part of your research? 

The most rewarding part is when all the different results of a project come together and form a new picture of a process. 

What would you be doing if you weren't a scientist?  

If I were not a scientist, I would be a writer.