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Scientists present 'moving' theory behind bacterial decision-making
Date:11/24/2008

Biochemists at North Carolina State University have answered a fundamental question of how important bacterial proteins make life-and-death decisions that allow them to function, a finding that could provide a new target for drugs to disrupt bacterial decision-making processes and related diseases.

In a study published this month in the journal Structure, the NC State scientists show for the first time that the specific movements of these important bacterial proteins, called transition-state regulators, guide how the proteins bind with DNA and thus control a variety of functions. These rare proteins are like army generals sizing up a battlefield; while they all look the same and have the same rank, their highly specialized "wiggles" allow them to figure out how to bind to different parts of DNA, triggering defense capabilities, for example, or commands to set up camp and chow down.

"For the first time, we've shown that proteins with identical shapes have different movements, and these movements allow proteins to select proper DNA targets that lead to tens or hundreds of processes," says Dr. John Cavanagh, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Molecular and Structural Biochemistry at NC State and the corresponding author of the paper. "Motion is really important. If the proteins didn't move, they wouldn't be able to bind to DNA and therefore to function."

Cavanagh and NC State senior biochemistry researcher Dr. Benjamin Bobay, a paper co-author, say that the findings present a new way of thinking about stopping bacteria. If a drug or antibiotic can stymie the motion of the transition-state regulators, the thinking goes, bacteria won't be able to figure out where to bind to DNA, effectively shutting the bacteria down. Killing a general, therefore, would stop the infantry from taking the battlefield.

Besides the fundamental knowledge about bacterial protein movement and DNA binding, the Structure paper a
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Contact: Dr. John Cavanagh
john_cavanagh@ncsu.edu
919-513-4349
North Carolina State University
Source:Eurekalert

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