These days, when a scientific article comes out, the title is designed to provide as much information as possible into the specific subject of the study. For those immersed in that branch of science, the words make sense. But for the rest of the population, these titles invoke a rather understandable response…

(What???)

You can’t blame the researchers. They simply are following the rules of what many call the scientific club. Researchers talk in a certain way and title their papers in a scientifically conventional manner. If you don’t follow, you don’t belong.

Unfortunately, when it comes to that wider audience, researchers understand the mere sight of a complex title can leave many thinking…

(I have made a critical mistake…)

But every now and then, someone chooses to fight this convention and come out with a title that is both wonderfully composed and easy to understand. One such article came out recently in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

The article is split into three parts. The first discusses the function of what is known as a Type VI Secretion System, or T6SS for short. It’s a group of proteins assembled together in the form of well…

(A crossbow…)

Not surprisingly, the role of T6SS – as the name implies – is to send out, or secrete, factors from inside the cell to the surrounding area. As to what these factors do, the deliver what can be best described as…

(A vicious punch…)

When a bacterium feels threatened, it uses T6SS to attack other bacterial cells in the hopes of wounding or killing the invader. The authors even provided a lovely visual description of how T6SS is used…

(I couldn’t have drawn it better myself…)

In essence, T6SS is a survival mechanism designed to help ensure bacteria maintain their territory in a diverse environment.

Which brings us to the second part of the paper, where this battle is happening…

 (The gut…)

There are potentially hundreds of different species living in our gastrointestinal tract, especially in the colon. While we might like to think they are all getting along, researchers have shown this is not the case. Instead, there are microcosms in which bacteria are…

(Facing off…)

Many of the bacteria in possession of T6SS are pathogens capable of causing diarrhea and other illnesses such as cholera. The researchers suggest the presence of T6SS gives them an advantage in our guts and can increase the likelihood of symptoms.

Now it’s time for the third part, which the authors magnificently described in the following image…

(Can you guess what is happening here?)

Let’s make this even easier to understand…

  1. The yellow bacterium is a pathogen with a T6SS in place.
  2. The blue bacterium is a friendly species, also known as a commensal.
  3. using genetic engineering, commensals can be given the ability to produce antidotes to T6SS toxins such that they can defend against attack.
  4. Using engineering to give commensals the ability to make T6SS, they also can engage in battle.

The group suggests using these genetically engineered commensal species may be useful in helping to prevent and possibly treat gastrointestinal infections. While this still is little more than a theory, considering the widespread nature of gastrointestinal bacterial infections, and the rise in antibiotic resistance, this strategy may be well worth…

(Further discussion…)

If you’ve been following along, you probably have noticed I haven’t actually given the title of the paper. I first wanted to go through the article and see if you could guess what it would be called.

Based on the science, you might think the article would be called…

“Prospective genetic engineering of commensal bacterial species
as a novel means to prevent T6SS-mediated bacterial gastroenteritis” 

But no.  Instead, the title is one of the best I have seen in a long time. It is simply and brilliantly called…

T6SS: The bacterial “fight club” in the host gut.

When it comes to scientific papers, titles are simply a collection of words designed to match a particular format. Although they may appear challenging and possibly lead you to forego reading on, just remember, the authors probably had no choice. It’s just part of the scientific club.

But, if scientists had the ability to be a little more like the authors of this paper, I can assure you they would. Because while you may think researchers are highly focused, straight-laced, thinking machines devoted to the club of science – and they are – deep inside many of them, there also lies an inner…

(Tyler Durden…)

I would suggest it’s worth going past the title and learning more about what makes these people work and well, fight, as hard as they do.

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