Sunday, 7 April 2019

How bacteria communicate


Researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York have uncovered the unique way in which a type of Gram-negative bacterium delivers the toxins that make us sick. Understanding this mechanism may help design better ways to block and eventually control those toxins.

Assistant Professor Xin Yong and graduate student Ao Li from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, along with Associate Professor Jeffrey W. Schertzer from the Department of Biological Sciences, published their findings in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The study looked at how bacteria communicate via the transportation of small molecules. Yong and Schertzer explained that communication molecules stimulate the production of outer membrane vesicles. These small packages then bud off from the surface of the bacterium and contain highly concentrated toxins.

Originally, it was hypothesized that the communication molecule induced vesicle production by controlling gene expression, but that's not what's going on.

Yong and Schertzer decided to work together on a model to understand more about how the communication molecule inserts itself into the membrane of bacteria in order to physically stimulate the production of these toxin delivery vehicles.

Yong's model allowed them to look at the details of the molecule and understand more about how it interacted with the membrane on a very short timescale. Schertzer and Yong explained that the communication molecule has both a head and a tail that are known to be flexible, but they did not expect this type of change. In the future, they hope to test what would change in the interaction when the tail is removed or the head is modified.

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While the study may sound fairly specific, it has some wider implications for all Gram-negative bacteria. Learning more about how Gram-negative bacteria communicate with each other can help researchers build a stronger understanding of multispecies interactions and how to eventually control these types of high-risk infections.

See:

Ao Li, Jeffrey W. Schertzer, Xin Yong. Molecular conformation affects the interaction of the Pseudomonas quinolone signal with the bacterial outer membrane. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 2019; 294 (4): 1089 DOI: 10.1074/jbc.AC118.006844

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology

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