Saturday, 25 November 2017

Hacking the bacterial social network


Scientists have determined the molecular structures of a highly specialized set of proteins that are used by a strain of E. coli bacteria to communicate and defend their turf.

Whenever we use our smartphones to check social media, we face loads of bacteria on the devices -- even more than on toilet seats, according to a University of Arizona study. Those bacteria may have their own form of social network that, like Facebook, allows the single-cell creatures to attract and repel one another.

This insight stems from new research by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) scientists who have determined the molecular structures of a highly specialized set of proteins. These proteins are used by a strain of E. coli bacteria to communicate and defend their turf.

The work could lead to new biomedical strategies for overcoming pathogenic bacteria that cause infectious diseases such as pneumonia and food-borne illnesses. It is the latest advance from a group of scientists at the DOE's Argonne National Laboratory; the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB); and the University of California, Irvine.

The work builds upon the 2005 discovery by UCSB researchers that the bacteria produce toxic proteins, which they can transfer to their neighbors through direct contact to either kill or control them, possibly to gain better access to nutrients. It plays out only in densely populated microbial communities through a process called contact-dependent growth inhibition (CDI).

See:

Karolina Michalska, Grant C. Gucinski, Fernando Garza-S├ínchez, Parker M. Johnson, Lucy M. Stols, William H. Eschenfeldt, Gyorgy Babnigg, David A. Low, Celia W. Goulding, Andrzej Joachimiak, Christopher S. Hayes. Structure of a novel antibacterial toxin that exploits elongation factor Tu to cleave specific transfer RNAsNucleic Acids Research, 2017; 45 (17): 10306 DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkx700

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

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