NEW ORLEANS, April 11, 2013 In a classic case of turning an enemy into a friend, scientists have engineered a protein from flesh-eating bacteria to act as a molecular "superglue" that promises to become a disease fighter. And their latest results, which make the technology more versatile, were the topic of a report here today at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.
"We've turned the tables and put one kind of flesh-eating bacterium to good use," said Mark Howarth, Ph.D., who led the research. "We have engineered one of its proteins into a molecular superglue that adheres so tightly that the set-up we used to measure the strength actually broke. It resists high and low temperatures, acids and other harsh conditions and seals quickly. With this material we can lock proteins together in ways that could underpin better diagnostic tests for early detection of cancer cells circulating in the blood, for instance. There are many uses in research, such as probing how the forces inside cells change the biochemistry and affect health and disease."
Howarth's team at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom genetically engineered the glue from a protein, FbaB, that helps Streptococcus pyogenes (S. pyogenes) bacteria infect cells. S. pyogenes is one of the microbes that can cause the rare necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria syndrome, in which difficult-to-treat infections destroy body tissue.
They split FbaB into two parts, a larger protein and a smaller protein subunit, termed a peptide. Abbreviating S. pyogenes as "Spy," they named the small peptide "SpyTag" and the larger protein "SpyCatcher." The gluing action occurs when SpyTag and SpyCatcher meet. They quickly lock together by forming one of the strongest possible chemical bonds. SpyCatcher and SpyTag can be attached to the millions of proteins in the human body and ot
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