Technique tricks bacteria into generating their own vaccine

Feb 23, 2009

Scientists have developed a way to manipulate bacteria so they will grow mutant sugar molecules on their cell surfaces that could be used against them as the key component in potent vaccines.

Any resulting vaccines, if proven safe, could be developed more quickly, easily and cheaply than many currently available vaccines used to prevent bacterial illnesses.

Most vaccines against bacteria are created with polysaccharides, or long strings of sugars found on the surface of bacterial cells. The most common way to develop these vaccines is to remove sugars from the cell surface and link them to proteins to give them more power to kill bacteria.

Polysaccharides alone typically do not generate a strong enough antibody response needed to kill bacteria. But this new technique would provide an easy approach to make a small alteration to the sugar structure and produce the polysaccharide by simple fermentation.

"We are showing for the first time that you don't have to use complicated chemical reactions to make the alteration to the polysaccharide," said Peng George Wang, Ohio Eminent Scholar and professor of biochemistry and chemistry at Ohio State University and senior author of the study. "All we need to do is ferment the bacteria, and then the polysaccharides that grow on the surface of the cell already incorporate the modification."

The research is scheduled to appear in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In vaccines, polysaccharides linked with carrier proteins are injected into the body. That sets off a process that causes the release of antibodies that recognize the sugars as an unwanted foreign body. The antibodies then remain dormant but ready to attack if they ever see the same polysaccharides again - which would be a signal that bacteria have infected the body.

Polysaccharides are chains of sugars, or monosaccharides, and they are targeted for vaccine development because they are the portion of bacterial cells that interact with the rest of the body.

Escherichia coli was used as a model for the study. Wang and colleagues used one of the existing monosaccharides present on the E. coli cell surface polysaccharides, called fucose, to generate this new modification. They manipulated the structure of the fucose to create 10 different analogs, or forms of the sugar in which just one small component is changed.

The scientists then manually introduced these altered forms of fucose to a solution in which bacterial cells were growing, and the bacterial cells absorbed the altered fucose as they would normal forms of the sugar. The presence of these altered forms of fucose then altered the properties of the polysaccharides that grew on the surface of the cells.

"This way, we don't have to do anything to modify the polysaccharides. We let bacteria do it for us," Wang said.

"Bacteria grow lots of polysaccharides - it's similar to the way humans grow hair. But for a vaccine, you need to make the molecules more active, or energetic," he said. "In our method, we feed the bacteria these chemicals while they are growing, and those chemicals end up in the polysaccharides and that makes them more immunogenic. That's the technology."

Wang said the approach is likely to be applicable to many different kinds of bacteria. But each type of pathogen must be tested individually with the alteration of sugars unique to its surface.

"If you want to prevent one type of bacteria, you have to find something very unique for this bacteria because different microbes have different characteristics," he said. "You have to find the oddest thing on the cell surface. It has to be on surface because what the body sees first is the surface."

His lab will next be testing the method's effectiveness on the pneumococcus bacteria under an exploratory $100,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The current vaccine to prevent pneumonia in babies and the elderly combines 23 strains of bacteria, making it complex and expensive to produce. Each injection costs about $50 in the United States. A less expensive way to develop the vaccine would increase its availability in the developing world, Wang said.

Source: Ohio State University

Explore further: Oat breakfast cereals may contain a common mold-related toxin

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Several "new" craters found in Siberia

1 minute ago

At least seven newly created mysterious craters have now been officially discovered in Siberia, though satellite imagery suggests there may be as many as 20. The discovery of the first three last year caused a small media stor ...

Canada looks east-west to ship oil after Keystone veto

5 hours ago

After US President Barack Obama vetoed a bill to expedite construction of the Keystone XL pipeline Tuesday, petroleum producers are expected to turn to Canadian routes to ship oil internationally, but hurdles ...

Internet access limited in developing world

5 hours ago

Most people in the developing world do not use the Internet, with access limited by high costs, poor availability and a lack of relevant content, a Facebook report said Tuesday.

Manhattan Project physicist Ralph Nobles dies at 94

5 hours ago

(AP)—Ralph Nobles, a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and later led efforts to save thousands of acres of San Francisco Bay wetlands from development, died following complications of pneumonia, according ...

In Japan, robot dogs are for life - and death

5 hours ago

Incense smoke wafts through the cold air of the centuries-old Buddhist temple as a priest chants a sutra, praying for the peaceful transition of the souls of the departed.

Recommended for you

Oat breakfast cereals may contain a common mold-related toxin

Feb 25, 2015

Oats are often touted for boosting heart health, but scientists warn that the grain and its products might need closer monitoring for potential mold contamination. They report in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that s ...

NETL invents improved oxygen carriers

Feb 24, 2015

One of the keys to the successful deployment of chemical looping technologies is the development of affordable, high performance oxygen carriers. One potential solution is the naturally-occurring iron oxide, ...

Research could make blue jeans green

Feb 23, 2015

Who doesn't like blue jeans? They're practically wrinkle-proof. The indigo dye that provides their distinctive color holds up to detergents, but ages into that soft, worn look. No wonder the average American ...

Novel electrode boosts green hydrogen research

Feb 20, 2015

Scientists from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) have developed a novel reference electrode, and are working with hydrogen energy system manufacturer ITM Power to aid the development of hydrogen production ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.