Troy, N.Y. Researchers have found that an enzyme in the bacteria that causes cholera uses a previously unknown mechanism in providing the bacteria with energy. Because the enzyme is not found in most other organisms, including humans, the finding offers insights into how drugs might be created to kill the bacteria without harming humans.
Blanca Barquera, a Rensselaer associate professor of biology, led a team (including research professor Joel Morgan and postdoctoral fellow Oscar Juarez) whose findings were published in the June 28 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The team studied Na+-NQR, an enzyme that is essentially two linked machines to create energy from food and electrically charge the cell membrane of Vibrio cholerae, powering many cellular functions.
Vibrio cholerae causes cholera, a disease transmitted primarily through contaminated drinking water. Cholera, in which severe diarrhea and vomiting lead to rapid dehydration, is a major cause of death in the developing world, and in the aftermath of catastrophes that compromise water systems.
The Rensselaer team found that the way in which the two machines are linked in Na+-NQR is different from other respiratory enzymes and likely involves much more movement of the protein than has been observed in other enzymes.
Their work stems from an interest in cellular respiration. Cellular respiration carries electrons from food to oxygen, in what amounts to a controlled burn. This process releases energy.
"Cellular respiration is remarkable," Barquera said. "It is one of the most efficient energy conversion processes known, and nevertheless, does not require high temperatures. This efficiency has drawn the attention of researchers."
In more complex organisms, like humans, the process of creating energy for a cell respiration takes place in specialized organelles within the cell called mitochondria.
|Contact: Mary Martialay|
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute