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Cell-Wall Carbohydrate in Anthrax Bacterium Holds Promise for New Vaccines

Athens: It was just weeks following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, when the deadly letters made its way into several offices of the news media and two US senators//. The letters contained a virulent strain of anthrax bacteria, which killed five people and infected 17 others.

In a bid to ensuring the safety of citizens, researchers at the University of Georgia, teaming up with scientists at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, have identified the structure of a unique cell-wall carbohydrate in B. anthracis.

The unique nature of the carbohydrate makes the molecule an important target for evaluating its role in virulence and survival of the anthrax bacterium, the development of new diagnostic tests and perhaps even as a new vaccine additive.

Russell Carlson of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Georgia and faculty member at UGA’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center (CCRC), was corresponding author on a paper reporting the research, which was just published in the online version of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Other authors from the CCRC include Biswa Choudhury, Christine Leoff, Elke Saile and Elmar Kannenberg. Collaborators at CDC were Patricia Wilkins and Conrad P. Quinn.

Anthrax is a naturally occurring animal disease. This year alone there have been several large outbreaks in animals in the U.S. and Canada, so understanding the structure of important parts of B. anthracis has a wide variety of potential applications. The new UGA research is not directly about vaccine development, and much more research needs to be done before the full potential of this unique anthrax molecule is understood.

The problems facing researchers as they unravel all the molecular riddles of anthrax are enormous. There are more than 100 known strains of B. anthracis, and one of the most virulent is called the Ames Strain. It is this strain that was mail
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