The work is led by Dr. Christopher Nomura of the college’s Department of Chemistry, who discovered that a simple protein molecule can interrupt the process bacteria use to move, eat, attach to surfaces, and communicate with one another or, in other words, to become potentially harmful.
“This is fundamentally a new way to think about blocking bacteria from becoming virulent,” Nomura said.
Exposing bacteria to the synthetic protein disrupts the developmental sequence that is common among such organisms, he said. This gives the process the potential to work against an array of bacteria including those that threaten patients with certain illnesses, such as cystic fibrosis, stubborn strains that commonly affect hospital patients and strains that occur in desert environments and prove troublesome for U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan or similar arid environments.
The college is seeking to patent the process.
Nomura’s research group focuses on the synthesis and properties of eco-friendly, biologically based materials, in particular the production of biobased polymers that can be used to make biodegradable plastics. He and his postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Benjamin Lundgren, were working on experiments in that realm when they overproduced some proteins that they thought would increase the expression of genes to produce the bioplastic materials. But instead of making the bacteria produce large quantities of plastics, the protein had the opposite effect.
Nomura began to investigate the chemistry behind the startling development and discovered that specific proteins can attach themselves to the bacterial DNA in a manner that essentially prevents the organism from expressing the information contained within its genes and results in short circuiting the ability of bacteria to respond to changes in their environment.
The antimicrobial process has an added advantage over traditional antibiotics currently in use: It will be extremely difficult for bacteria to do an end run around the process by simply mutating. Since the protein targets hundreds of genes simultaneously, a corresponding mutation would also involve hundreds of changes. Traditional antibiotics attack only one aspect of the bacteria’s development, making mutation a simpler task.
“Basically, we’re interrupting the flow of genetic information in the cell, in effect ‘hacking’ the program of the bacterial cell,” Nomura said. “If we can fundamentally control the mechanism of gene expression, we can control what the bacteria are capable of doing. We can prevent them from becoming virulent.”
Claire B. Dunn | Newswise
New application for acoustics helps estimate marine life populations
16.01.2018 | University of California - San Diego
Unexpected environmental source of methane discovered
16.01.2018 | University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.
Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...
The oceans are the largest global heat reservoir. As a result of man-made global warming, the temperature in the global climate system increases; around 90% of...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
17.01.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
17.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
17.01.2018 | Awards Funding