New protein ‘detonates’ antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Infections caused by MRSA and other types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria remain one of the primary health threats in the world today, particularly in developing countries marked by the overuse of such treatments and poor sanitation quality.

But researchers from Tel Aviv University have developed a potential new way to combat these pathogens by sequencing the DNA of bacteria resistant to viral toxins and identifying novel proteins that could slow growth in these superbug-causing, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The study, which was published last month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by Professor Udi Qimron from the Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology at the Sackler School of Medicine and also involved scientists from the Department of Cell Research and Immunology at TAU’s George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences.

“Because bacteria and bacterial viruses have co-evolved over billions of years, we suspected the viruses might contain precisely the weapons necessary to fight the bacteria. So we systematically screened for such proteins in the bacterial viruses for over two and a half years,” Qimron said.

He and his colleagues used a process known as high-throughput DNA sequencing to detect mutations in bacterial genes which had grown resistant to toxic growth inhibitors produced by bacterial viruses. This allowed them to identify a new small protein that could specifically target and inhibits the activity of a protein essential to bacterial cells.

That substance, growth inhibitor gene product (Gp) 0.6, was found to cripple the activity of a protein that is essential to bacterial cells. The protein helps maintain the bacterial cell structure, and causing it to malfunction caused the cell itself to essentially self-destruct.

“The new technology and our new interdisciplinary collaboration, drawing from bioinformatics and molecular biology, promoted our study more than we could have anticipated,” said Qimron. “We hope our approach will be used to further identify new growth inhibitors and their targets across bacterial species and in higher organisms.”

He and his colleagues plan to continue analyzing bacterial viruses with the hopes that they will be able to identify other compounds and processes which could be used to improve the treatment of antibiotic-resistant bacteria using yet uncharacterized bacterial viruses’ proteins. They believe that such research will ultimately lead to a breakthrough in the fight against these superbugs.

Researchers have long pursued ways to combat some of the potentially dangerous illnesses caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, ranging from calls by public health officials to use the treatment option less frequently to a treatment option designed to target persisters, special cells produced by pathogens that make them more difficult to kill off.

Last summer, researchers from Arizona State University used an innovative new method that combined biomedicine and geochemistry to discover natural clay elements that have antibacterial properties which could be harnesses to combat strains that have developed resistance.

“Minerals have long had a role in non-traditional medicine,” said Enriqueta Barrera, a program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.

“Yet there is often no understanding of the reaction between the minerals and the human body or agents that cause illness,” Barerra added. “This research explains the mechanism by which clay minerals interfere with the functioning of pathogenic bacteria. The results have the potential to lead to the wide use of clays in the pharmaceutical industry.”

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