Researchers in the United States and United Kingdom have shown how the bacteria responsible for many urinary tract infections have adapted to prevent being flushed out when you pee.
Using cryo-electron microscopy reconstruction, scientists recently discovered how pili, hairlike structures found on the surface of many bacteria, are able to anchor UTI-causing bacteria to the lining of the urinary tract. After the bacteria use their spring-like pili to hook in, they then coil and uncoil the pili based on the intensity of urine flow, allowing them to evade ejection in your pee.
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"The particular bacteria that are responsible for 80 percent or so of these urinary tract infections are a form of E. coli," said study co-author Edward Egelman in a video released by the University of Virginia. "These are a particular strain that have adapted to survive in the urinary tract ... they have these long polymers—you can think of them as like hairs that project out from the bacteria—and these things latch onto the lining of the urinary tract. That's what allows them to become infective."
Egelman added that the study's greatest effect on public health was the discovery of the pili's atomic structure, which will allow scientists to design drugs and other therapeutics intended to disable their grip.
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According to the Mayo Clinic, UTIs are commonly caused by bacteria entering the urethra due to sexual intercourse and sexually transmitted infections.