Finding E. coli’s Achilles heel

Nov 10, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Thanks to the work of a Simon Fraser University researcher and two of his students, science is closer to finding a new way of combatting infections caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli) and other related bacteria.

E. coli are found naturally in human intestines and perform some important digestive duties. But a potentially deadly version is commonly found in spoiled or rotten food and attacks the human digestive system, causing food poisoning.

SFU and biochemistry (MBB) associate professor Mark Paetzel and his students Kelly Kim and Suraaj Aulakh have discovered how two proteins bind together in the outer membrane of E. coli.

The Journal of Biological Chemistry has just published their findings on-line in the paper Crystal structure of the β-barrel assembly machinery BamCD complex.

Like many disease-causing forms of bacteria, E. coli bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to conventional antibiotics. However, Paetzel, Kim (doctoral candidate) and Aulakh (master’s candidate) believe E. coli’s dependence on a factory-like machine in its outer membrane to keep it alive provides science with an untapped Achilles heel.

The trio has discovered how two proteins (BamC and BamD) in E. coli’s outer membrane bind together to help form what is known as the β-barrel assembly machinery (BAM) complex.

Once up and running the complex ensures proper formation of proteins in the outer membrane, which serves as a protective barrier for E. coli. These proteins can function as foot soldiers that ensure E. coli’s survival by helping it to penetrate and attack its hosts, fight antibiotics and accomplish other tasks.

If Paetzel and his team isolate how the BAM complex’s other proteins bind together and collectively kick start the complex’s protein-assembly-mechanism they’ll have cornered E. coli’s Achilles heel.

“Being able to see and understand how this happens would enable us to design inhibitors to stymie the complex’s formation and startup,” adds Kim.

Says Aulakh: “It would be like watching a molecular movie in real time and designing a monkey wrench, effectively a new form of antibiotics, to shut down or cripple the complex before it starts functioning.”

The researchers hope the BAM complex could be a potential new drug target to help fight many diseases, such as meningitis and gonorrhea, which are also caused by BAM-containing bacteria.

Explore further: Moving single cells around—accurately and cheaply

Provided by Simon Fraser University

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New strategy to combat cystitis

Jun 03, 2011

One in three women will be faced at least once in her life with cystitis, for some the start of a constantly recurring infection. Cystitis is caused by Escherichia coli bacteria which fasten on to the wall of the bladder by mea ...

Virus uses 'Swiss Army knife' protein to cause infection

Aug 17, 2011

In an advance in understanding Mother Nature's copy machines, motors, assembly lines and other biological nano-machines, scientists are describing how a multipurpose protein on the tail of a virus bores into ...

Researchers modify harmless bacteria to kill harmful bacteria

Aug 17, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers in Singapore have modified the DNA of one type of bacterium, Escherichia coli, to first sense the presence of another bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and then to explode, releasing a special kin ...

Recommended for you

Moving single cells around—accurately and cheaply

19 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

23 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