His research team has registered all the information concerning the harmless enteric bacteria's genome and interactions in a database, which also lists the genetic data of the dangerous EHEC pathogen. On the computer, the EhecRegNet system compares the genetic data of the EHEC bacteria with the data from harmless bacteria to track down genetic switches in EHEC. The goal is to use these switches to disable the genes which cause severe renal failure in some patients. "Genes can be switched on and off, much like a light bulb. But first you have to find the right switch. At the moment, you could say that we are throwing stones at the light bulb to put out the light. We still do not know where the switches are for EHEC, but we do know where they are located in evolutionarily related harmless bacteria. That is our starting point", says Baumbach. The computer simulations will allow scientists to locate the switches for dangerous genes much faster than with expensive testing in biomedical laboratories.
Knowledge of around 80 to 90 per cent about interactions in normal enteric bacteria can be transferred to the EHEC pathogen by utilizing the computer simulations. This knowledge about harmless bacteria has been gathered by biologists and medical scientists over the last twenty years. "We cannot afford spending so much time with the EHEC bacteria, but we can take a short cut and use the available information about harmless bacteria and transfer knowledge about their genetic regulation to EHEC. It will save us time-consuming, expensive and even dangerous work in the laboratory", says Baumbach. Comparing the data on the computer is much faster. In this way, scientists hope to be able to find out which switches to flip in the genome in order to reduce EHEC's virulence.
Still, the scientist cautions against becoming too euphoric: "It may take years before a drug is actually approved for the market. However, it is possible that we will soon be able to
|Contact: Dr. Jan Baumbach|