Like their human hosts, bacteria need iron to survive and they must obtain that iron from the environment. While humans obtain iron primarily through the food they eat, bacteria have evolved complex and diverse mechanisms to allow them access to iron. A Syracuse University research team led by Robert Doyle, assistant professor of chemistry in The College of Arts and Sciences, discovered that some bacteria are equipped with a gene that enables them to harvest iron from their environment or human host in a unique and energy efficient manner. Doyle's discovery could provide researchers with new ways to target such diseases as tuberculosis. The research will be published in the August issue (volume 190, issue 16) of the prestigious Journal of Bacteriology, published by the American Society for Microbiology.
"Iron is the single most important micronutrient bacteria need to survive," Doyle says. "Understanding how these bacteria thrive within us is a critical element of learning how to defeat them."
Doyle's research group studied Streptomyces coelicolor, a Gram-positive bacteria that is closely related to the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. Streptomyces is abundant in soil and in decaying vegetation, but does not affect humans. The TB bacteria and Streptomyces are both part of a family of bacteria called Actinomycetes. These bacteria have a unique defense mechanism that enables them to produce chemicals to destroy their enemies. Some of these chemicals are used to make antibiotics and other drugs.
Actinomycetes need lots of iron to wage chemical warfare on its enemies; however, iron is not easily accessible in the environments in which the bacteria live e.g. human or soil. Some iron available in the soil is bonded to citrate, making a compound called iron-citrate. Citrate is a substance that cells can use as a source of energy. Doyle and his research team wondered if the compo
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