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Chasing EHEC with the computer
Date:6/10/2011

This release is available in German.

Just a few genes make enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) extremely dangerous to humans. If it were not for these genes, EHEC would hardly differ from harmless enteric bacteria. Bioinformatics scientists from the Saarbrcken Cluster of Excellence want to exploit this similarity to find starting points for effective drugs against the EHEC pathogen. In a very short time, the scientists have constructed EhecRegNet, a database and analysis platform that incorporates all known interactions between enteric E. coli genes. Using integrated simulations, genetic switches for the dangerous EHEC genes can be identified much faster and used medically. The virtual laboratory will thus help biomedical scientists and pharmacists all over the world to develop new drugs.

All human beings carry roughly one to two kg of bacteria in their bodies. The most common enteric bacterium is Escherichia coli, which is also the best-studied microorganism on earth. "Its genetic composition has been documented in detail and we know of around 3,500 gene interactions, i.e., ca. 40% of the regulatory processes that go on in the bacterium," says Jan Baumbach, who heads a research group at the Cluster of Excellence for computer science at Saarland University. Together with his team at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrcken, he quickly realised that the current rampant EHEC pathogen is closely related to normal intestinal bacteria. "We assume that no more than ten genes make the EHEC pathogen life-threatening. Some genes emerged a long time ago, over the course of evolution, but others were modified through an inter-bacterial exchange of plasmids. It is a kind of primitive sex that the bacteria use to transmit genetic information. This often leads to resistance to antibiotics", the bioinformatics scientist explain
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Contact: Dr. Jan Baumbach
jbaumbac@mpi-inf.mpg.de
49-068-130-270-880
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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