X-ray diffraction may play key role in stopping 'kissing bug,' fungus

Oct 19, 2010

If finding the cure for a fungus and parasite that affects millions of people were the subject of a detective show, University of Missouri Chemistry Professor John Tanner would be the forensic expert in the lab, using high-tech equipment to make a model that could eventually solve the crime.

Tanner, who also teaches chemistry in the College of Arts and Science, has joined forces with Pablo Sobrado, an assistant professor of at Virginia Tech, to study a unique enzyme found on two "crime scenes": in Aspergillus fumigatus, a that causes pulmonary diseases in immuno-compromised people; and in a blood-sucking insect prevalent in South America and now being found in the southwestern U.S., called the Chagas parasite, also known as the "" for the red welts left on the victims' faces after being bitten in his or her sleep.

"My job is to figure out what the enzyme looks like using X-ray diffraction," Tanner said. "This enzyme makes a special that these organisms need to survive, so if we can find a way to stop the reaction that makes that sugar, then we might find a way to kill these ."

In Tanner's lab at the University of Missouri, researcher Dale Karr is in the first stages of the process –growing tiny crystals of the enzyme. These crystals will eventually be used in X-ray crystallography, a technique in which diffraction patterns that are produced by bombarding crystals with intense X-ray beams are decoded to determine the atomic structure of the enzyme. With this information, and Sobrado's information on how the protein can be isolated and characterized, different drugs that may inhibit the enzyme can be designed and tested.

"The enzyme is like a lock, and if we can see what the lock looks like, we can find a key to fit in the lock and prevent the enzyme from being active," said Tanner. "This is interesting because it's a new project for us, and the collaboration with Pablo has enabled my group to enter a different field with a focus on drug design. That's exciting for me; hopefully the fruits of our labor will some day help people."

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has given a $1.5 million grant to support the five-year research project.

Explore further: Moving single cells around—accurately and cheaply

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Unlocking the function of enzymes

Nov 06, 2007

Fitting a key into a lock may seem like a simple task, but researchers at Texas A&M University are using a method that involves testing thousands of keys to unlock the functions of enzymes, and their findings could open the ...

Study could lead to new drugs to treat sleeping sickness

Feb 24, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Knowing the structure of an enzyme essential to the protozoan parasite that causes African sleeping sickness may lead to new drugs to combat the often-fatal disease and several other related disorders that ...

Recommended for you

Moving single cells around—accurately and cheaply

17 hours ago

Scientists at the Houston Methodist Research Institute have figured out how to pick up and transfer single cells using a pipette—a common laboratory tool that's been tweaked slightly. They describe this ...

The difficult question of Clostridium difficile

21 hours ago

The bacterium Clostridium difficile causes antibiotic-related diarrhoea and is a growing problem in the hospital environment and elsewhere in the community. Understanding how the microbe colonises the hu ...

New technology offers insight into cholesterol

Aug 14, 2014

With new advanced techniques developed by the Copenhagen Center for Glycomics at the University of Copenhagen it is possible to study cells in greater detail than ever before. The findings have just been ...

User comments : 0