News / Science & Technology

    Acne Bacteria Found in Grapevines

    FILE - Scientists were surprised to find the grapevines they studied harbored Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium usually found on human skin and best known for causing acne.
    FILE - Scientists were surprised to find the grapevines they studied harbored Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium usually found on human skin and best known for causing acne.
    You may think your teenage acne lasted a long time, but scientists have discovered grapevines have been carrying the bacteria that cause pimples for 7,000 years.

    Named for the musical iconoclast Frank Zappa, scientists say it is the first time a bacterium found in humans has been discovered taking up residence all the way across the tree of life in plants.

    Molecular biologist Omar Rota-Stabelli at Italy’s Fondazione Edmund Mach and colleagues were studying microbes living inside grapevines.

    “There’s plenty of bacteria living inside plants,” he said. “And we know some are good bacteria for the plants. Some others are bad. Our study [aims] to understand what lives inside and if it's giving an advantage or not."

    They were surprised to find that all the grapevines they studied harbored Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium usually found on human skin and best known for causing acne.

    The findings are published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution

    Bacteria inside plants

    P. acnes doesn’t give grapevines acne. At this point, it’s not clear what the bacteria is doing to, or for, the plant.

    It’s not that uncommon to find human-associated bacteria on plants. Take, for example, E. coli, which usually inhabits the guts of humans and animals, but can contaminate fruits and vegetables and cause disease.

    But those bacteria rarely stay for long. This strain of P. acnes appears to be living, among other places, inside cells in the center of the grapevine, called pith.  And it appears to have lost a critical DNA repair protein, which makes it hard to survive on the outside.

    “This bacteria seems perfectly used to staying in the grapevine. It can’t live without [the] grape,” Rota-Stabelli said.

    Prehistoric meeting

    The scientists determined that the bacteria and the grapevine probably first got together about 7,000 years ago, which “perfectly matched when humans domesticated the grape. So, it really made sense,” he said.

    Tending grapevines involves a lot of cutting, he said, opening up a route for the bacteria to move in. 

    And pith cells are rich in fatty acids.

    “These bacteria probably feed on those fatty acids, as they used to do on our skin,” he said.

    When they first discovered P. acnes in their grapevines,

    "My impression was, 'that’s contamination from the technician. No way,’” Rota-Stabelli said.

    The technician was not especially acne-prone. 

    “No, he’s very hairy,” Rota-Stabelli joked.

    The Zappa Way

    When further tests confirmed it was, in fact, P. acnes, they named it type Zappae, after the virtuoso musician known for such songs as, "Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow" and "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama."

    Rota-Stabelli says he and lead author Andrea Campisano are fans. But it’s more than that.

    “I think we behaved in a Frank Zappa way,” he said. Instead of assuming the samples were contaminated, “we thought in a different way and found something very unexpected.”

    The next step is to look inside other plants to see if P. Zappae turns up in more unexpected places.

    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    Post-White House, Obamas to Rent Washington Mansion

    Nine-bedroom home is 3 kilometers from Oval Office, near capital's Embassy Row; rent estimated at around $22,000 a month

    Red Planet? Not so much!

    New research suggest that Mars is in a warm period between cyclical ice ages, and that during Ice Age Maximum over 500,000 years ago, the red planet was decidedly ice, and much whiter to the naked eye.

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Kitagawa Keikoh from: Daikanyama, TKO
    February 22, 2014 8:38 PM
    What is the matter you find acne bacteria in grapevines ?
    What is good and bad for us ?
    They mentioned that the bacteria and the grapevine got together about 7000 years ago when humans domesticated the grape, but so what?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora