Pseudomonas Aeruginosa: The Fluorescent Bacteria

This lesson will teach you about Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a type of really cool bacteria that has lots of different colors and even a particular smell. We’ll explore how this bacterial plays a role in nosocomial infections as well.

A Light-Producing Microbe

Nowadays it seems that there are a million different types of light bulbs we can buy at the local home-improvement store. I’m sure you’ve heard of a lot of them: incandescent, LED, fluorescent, CFL, halogen bulbs, and so on. Frankly, I don’t even know the difference between most of them: Which ones save you more money? Which ones are greener for the environment? I actually only care about one particular type of light bulb in the context of this lesson, and it’s actually a light-producing microbe that can have some deadly consequences.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa

If you’ve ever been to a large hospital and looked up, I’m pretty sure that you saw the most common type of light bulbs used to light up the hallways of hospitals – those really long, tubular light bulbs are called fluorescent light bulbs. I don’t know why these are the ones that are chosen over others, but believe it or not, they have an important context in this lesson.

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That’s because a type of opportunistic, Gram-negative, aerobic, and fluorescent bacterium called Pseudomonas aeruginosa is often the cause of much mayhem in hospital settings. It’s an aerobic bacterium, which means it requires oxygen for growth, and because it doesn’t have a very thick cell wall, it is known as a Gram-negative bacterium. In addition, this bacterium will glow a really cool yellow-green or blue-green color when placed under a UV light.

This fluorescent glow is thanks to two key pigments. One is called pyoverdin, which is a pigment that produces a yellow-green color, and the other is called pyocyanin, which is a pigment that produces a bluish-green color. These terms are kind of easy to remember, because the Spanish word ‘verde‘ means ‘green’ and ‘cyan‘ refers to a commonly known bluish-green color! See, you got a Spanish and science lesson all in one!

Oh, and wait, it gets better. This bacterium is so cool that it not only produces some nice colors but also smells like grapes! It’s like a scratch-and-sniff sticker!

Nosocomial Infections

That’s where the fun stops, however. This bacterium is super deadly, especially if you are immune-compromised – meaning, if you are sick due to another disease, that’s when this bacterium will try and get you. It doesn’t like to fight a really strong immune system and would rather lie in wait and get you when you’re down and out for the count.

You can liken it to an opponent in a boxing match who waits for the much bigger and stronger opponent (you) to become really weak after many rounds of trying to knock out another opponent (disease). As soon as that opponent sees you are really weak, he comes at you and knocks you down.

That’s why infection by this bacterium is called an opportunistic infection. It’s because Pseudomonas aeruginosa waits for the right opportunity to attack a sick person, such as a patient in a hospital.

Since there are a lot of sick people in hospitals, this is where this bacterium likes to do its dirty work. A hospital-acquired infection, called a nosocomial infection, caused by this bacterium can lead to a whole host of issues.

Diseases and Treatments

This infection may cause only a mild skin rash or an ear infection. That’s simple enough and can be rather easily dealt with, especially in a healthy person. However, in sick individuals it can cause pneumonia, or lung infection, especially in people who have a condition known as cystic fibrosis, which is a genetic disorder. Other problems this bacterium causes range from urinary tract infections to deadly infections of the blood.

Typically, these diseases are treated with antibiotics when caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. However, these infections are becoming very difficult to treat because of antibiotic resistance – meaning this bacterium no longer falls victim to the drug (the antibiotic) that is trying to kill it.

You can liken antibiotic resistance to a boxer (a disease) that has figured out how to avoid all of your old punches and throws. You’re going to have to come up with some new moves (a new antibiotic) to try and kill the bacterium.

Lesson Summary

As you can tell, even though this bacterium may fluoresce with all sorts of pretty colors, it is still an ugly and deadly opponent. That’s because it is a type of opportunistic, Gram-negative, aerobic, and fluorescent bacterium called Pseudomonas aeruginosa. It is often the cause of much mayhem in hospital settings, where it can cause a nosocomial infection, which is the fancy term for a hospital-acquired infection.

The cool glow this bacterium produces is thanks to two key pigments. One is called pyoverdin, which is a pigment that produces a yellow-green color, and the other is called pyocyanin, which is a pigment that produces a bluish-green color. These terms are kind of easy to remember, because the Spanish word ‘verde‘ means ‘green’ and ‘cyan‘ refers to a commonly known bluish-green color!

Learning Outcomes

When the video lesson is complete, you should be able to:

  • Define Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Describe what causes the bacteria to glow
  • Explain how deadly the disease can be
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