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Scientists trick bacteria with small molecules
Date:10/7/2010

New Haven, Conn.A team of Yale University scientists has engineered the cell wall of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, tricking it into incorporating foreign small molecules and embedding them within the cell wall.

The finding, described online in the journal ACS Chemical Biology this week, represents the first time scientists have engineered the cell wall of a pathogenic "Gram-positive" bacteriaorganisms responsible not only for Staph infections but also pneumonia, strep throat and many others. The discovery could pave the way for new methods of combating the bacteria responsible for many of the most infectious diseases.

The team engineered one end of their small molecules to contain a peptide sequence that would be recognized by the bacteria. In Staphylococcus aureus, an enzyme called sortase A is responsible for attaching proteins to the cell wall.

"We sort of tricked the bacteria into incorporating something into its cell wall that it didn't actually make," said David Spiegel, a Yale chemist who led the study. "It's as if the cell thought the molecules were its own proteins rather than recognizing them as something foreign."

The scientists focused specifically on the cell wall because it contains many of the components the cell uses to relate to its environment, Spiegel said. "By being able to manipulate the cell wall, we can in theory perturb the bacteria's ability to interact with human tissues and host cells."

The team used three different small molecules in their experiment including biotin, fluorescein and azide but the technique could be used with other molecules, Spiegel said, as well as with other types of bacteria. Another advantage to the new technique is that the scientists did not have to first genetically modify the bacteria in any way in order for them to incorporate the small molecules, meaning the method should work on naturally occurring bacteria in the human body.

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Contact: Suzanne Taylor Muzzin
suzanne.taylormuzzin@yale.edu
203-432-8555
Yale University
Source:Eurekalert

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