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Bacteria pack their own demise
Date:7/31/2009

ucing 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.

Future

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
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Contact: Pieter Van Dooren
info@vib.be
329-244-6611
VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)
Source:Eurekalert

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