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Discovery Leads to Way to Curb Anthrax Effect

Researchers have found a mechanism that anthrax bacteria use to elude the body’s defenses, which could lead to a drug or therapy// to lessen the effect of anthrax bacterial species Bacillus anthracis if used in a bioterrorism attack.

For the last four years, Dr. Rowe Byers, professor of microbiology, and Dr. Jean Arceneaux, associate professor of microbiology, have worked on the project that led to this discovery with scientists from the University of California,Berkeley and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Assisting Byers and Arceneaux at UMC were Dr. Bianca Garner, currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Medicine and Melissa Wilson, a graduate student in the Department of Microbiology.

A study of how bacteria steal iron from the body uncovered the mechanism that makes an end run around the body’s defense system. Byers said almost everything requires iron, even the anthrax organism.

“Organisms that cause infections have to find a way to get it from their hosts, in this case, humans. There is essentially no free iron available to a pathogen in a normal host. All of the host’s iron is functioning in enzymes or heme containing proteins, or is safely stored, with a small amount in transit bound to a protein called transferrin. Pathogenic bacteria like anthrax must tap into our normal iron flow to grow,” he said.

Bacteria have several means to capture iron from a host. Production of iron binding agents called siderophores is one of the mechanisms by which bacteria take iron away from the body. In response, the body makes a protein called siderocalin, which binds and inactivates some siderophores.

Siderocalin is a major and recently discovered pillar of the host’s innate defense system against infectious diseases, Byers said.

On the other side of this tug-of-war over iron is the anthrax organism, which produces a unique siderophore, called petrobactin. It was first
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