Protein's 'hands' enable bacteria to establish infection, research finds

by Jennifer Tidball
Kansas State University biochemists are the first to observe groups of tiny protein loops on the surface of cells. Their work is featured as the cover article for the July issue of the Journal of General Physiology. Credit: Journal of General Physiology

When it comes to infecting humans and animals, bacteria need a helping hand.

Kansas State University biochemists have found the helping hand: groups of tiny protein loops on the surface of cells. These loops are similar to the fingers of a hand, and by observing seven individual loops on the surface of E. coli , the researchers found that the loops can open or close to grab in the environment.

"These structures are like small hands on the surface of bacterial cells," said Phillip Klebba, principal investigator and professor and head of biochemistry and molecular biophysics. "They make the bacteria capable of recognizing something and grabbing it from the environment. It's amazing that such a tiny molecule can do that."

Kansas State University researchers are the first to observe this process. Their experiments may lead to new ways to protect people and animals against bacterial infections by helping scientists develop targeted treatment and intervention methods.

The research is featured as the cover article for the July issue of the Journal of General Physiology.

All cells need iron to stay alive, which puts iron at the center of the microbial pathogenesis process. When bacteria invade an animal or human, they must acquire iron to establish an infection, Klebba said.

"A microbiological war is going on in the host tissue," Klebba said. "The host is trying to prevent the microbe from getting iron. The microbe is trying to get the iron using proteins that can essentially see their environment, grab iron and internalize it into the bacterial cell."

In the latest research, the scientists used site-directed spectroscopic analysis of E. coli cells to monitor the activity of the surface transport proteins. Through their experiments, they observed the seven loops on the cell surface moving as they recognized and absorbed iron in the environment for later transport into the cell.

The absorption process happens quickly and efficiently, Klebba said. Less than a second after the enter an environment with iron compounds, they recognize the molecules, grab them and start the transfer process.

"If we can understand exactly how this acquisition process works, we can design, isolate or identify small molecules that inhibit the iron uptake process," Klebba said. "Those are potentially antimicrobial agents that could protect people and animals against ."

The scientists will continue the research to get a full understanding of how the proteins manage to transport iron from the outside to the inside of .

More information: jgp.rupress.org/content/144/1/71.full

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bacteria hijack plentiful iron supply source to flourish

Jul 09, 2014

In an era of increasing concern about the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant illness, Case Western Reserve researchers have identified a promising new pathway to disabling disease: blocking bacteria's access to iron in the ...

Slaying bacteria with their own weapons

Jun 26, 2014

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned last fall that the U.S. faces "potentially catastrophic consequences" if it doesn't act quickly to combat the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant infections, ...

Unique E. coli protein may be not after all

Jan 03, 2012

A bacterial protein recently thought to be a unique mechanism for utilizing iron may not be after all. Researchers from the University of Georgia, the Fellowship for Interpretation of Genomes, the University of Oklahoma and ...

Recommended for you

Organovo has 3D-printed liver tissue for drug testing

Nov 20, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—The commercial release of 3D printed liver tissue was announced earlier this week. Organovo is the company behind the release. The product is intended for use for preclinical drug discovery ...

User comments

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.