Navigation Links
Bacteria pack their own demise

Brussels - Numerous pathogens contain an 'internal time bomb', a deadly mechanism that can be used against them. After years of work, VIB researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) were able to determine the structure and operating mechanism of the proteins involved. This clears the road for finding ways to set the clock on this internal time bomb and, hopefully, in the process developing a new class of antibiotics. The research was accepted for publication by top journal Molecular Cell, with congratulations from the editorial board.

It's in the genes

For years, Nathalie De Jonge, Remy Loris and their colleagues of the VIB Department of Molecular and Cellular Interactions at VUB, have applied their relentless dedication to the study of the precise structure and function of the toxin-antitoxin complex, a system that had not been the focus of much interest in the past. Only in the last couple of years the rest of the scientific world come to realize its importance and as a result the number of papers in this field has exploded.

All living creatures, people as well as bacteria, store their genetic information in the same way, i.e. in the DNA. Every human cell contains 46 neatly folded DNA strands that together measure two meters, while bacteria have to make do with around one millimetre of DNA. A piece of DNA containing the recipe for one characteristic, such as "how to make citric acid" or "how to make hair curl," is called a gene. Humans have several tens of thousands of genes.

Toxin and antitoxin

If your genetic information becomes damaged, you have a good chance of becoming ill or even dying. This is also true for bacteria, which over time developed a handy way of providing extra protection to important genes the toxin-antitoxin (T-A) system. These T-A genes are tucked in near the genes to be protected. T-A genes contain instructions for both a toxin and its antitoxin. As long as the cell is producing both, all is well. However, if for some reason the piece of DNA where the T-A gene is located gets damaged or lost, the production of toxin and antitoxin comes to a halt and a time bomb starts ticking. Because the toxin is more stable than the antitoxin, it is broken down more slowly by the cell's clean-up mechanisms. Once the antitoxin is all gone, there is still enough toxin left to kill the bacterium. The upshot for the species is that bacteria that loses their T-A gene and probably have sustained damage to the important genes just next to it can no longer reproduce.

Our best-known intestinal residents, Escherichia coli bacteria, more commonly known as E.coli, have such a T-A system in five different locations in their DNA, while Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria even have them in 60 locations.

A difficult feat

The T-A mechanism has been known for a while, but nobody clearly understood the workings of the proteins carrying out the instructions of the T-A gene. The VIB researchers clarified in detail both the appearance of the toxin and antitoxin, the mechanism of their interaction and the forms they take while in action a difficult feat to pull off, requiring the simultaneous use of a whole range of different technologies. One of the difficulties for instance lay in the fact that part of the antitoxin lacks a fixed structure. This formlessness keeps it from being brought into view.


Now that we finally know how the time bomb functions (or more exactly, one of the time bombs, as there are several closely related T-A systems), biomedical scientists can start looking for substances to start the time bomb of pathogens ticking, i.e. substances that imitate the toxin protein, block the antitoxin protein, or disrupt the interaction between the toxin and antitoxin. In time, a new class of antibiotics might come out of it though Nature mostly has a countermove up its sleeve against any move scientists do.


Contact: Pieter Van Dooren
VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)

Related biology technology :

1. Quick microchip test for dangerous antibiotic resistant bacteria
2. GlaxoSmithKline Awarded U.S. Department of Defense Contract to Pursue Novel Antibacterial Research Program
3. University of Leicester scientists discover technique to help friendly bacteria
4. ICBS acquires 30% interest in Bacteria Bank Ltd.
5. Verenium Explores Bacterial Genes Inside Termite Guts to Understand How Wood is Broken Down and Converted to Energy
6. NOLabs AB Achieves Break-Through in Fight Against MRSA-Bacteria
7. Free White Paper Available for Clinical Laboratory Managers: Effectively Isolating Anaerobic Bacteria
8. Venter Institute Scientists Create First Synthetic Bacterial Genome
9. Immune system protein starves staph bacteria
10. Study Confirms Anti-Infective ARIKACE(TM) Effectively Penetrates Mucus and Biofilm, and Kills Pseudomonas, a Bacteria Plaguing Cystic Fibrosis Patients
11. Rib-X Pharmaceuticals to Present at Cambridge Healthtech Institutes 2nd Annual Challenge of Antibacterial Development Conference
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/25/2015)... (PRWEB) , ... November 25, 2015 , ... ... and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OPBAP) has been formalized with the ... other AMA team leaders met with OPBAP leaders Capt. Karl Minter and Capt. ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... 24, 2015 , ... The United States Golf Association (USGA) today announced Dr. ... Award. Presented annually since 1961, the USGA Green Section Award recognizes an individual’s distinguished ... , Clarke, of Iselin, N.J., is an extension specialist of turfgrass pathology in ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , ... November 24, 2015 , ... ... of the year and one of the premier annual events for pharmaceutical manufacturing: ... from 8–11 November 2015, where ISPE hosted the largest number of attendees in ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... 24, 2015 , ... The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), led by its ... as Multirotor Grand Prix, to represent the First–Person View (FPV) racing community. , FPV ... embraced this type of racing and several new model aviation pilots have joined the ...
Breaking Biology Technology:
(Date:11/12/2015)... , Nov. 11, 2015   Growing need ... analytical tools has been paving the way for ... determination of discrete analytes in clinical, agricultural, environmental, ... being predominantly used in medical applications, however, their ... sectors due to continuous emphasis on improving product ...
(Date:11/9/2015)... , Nov. 09, 2015 ... addition of the "Global Law Enforcement ... offering. --> ) has ... Law Enforcement Biometrics Market 2015-2019" report ... and Markets ( ) has announced ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... 2015   MedNet Solutions , an innovative SaaS-based ... clinical research, is pleased to announce that it has ... as one of only three finalists for a ... and Growing" category. The Tekne Awards honor Minnesota ... technology innovation and leadership. iMedNet™ eClinical ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):