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A unique on-off switch that may be used for a variety of purposes, including preventing bacterial development

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Researchers have found an antitoxin mechanism that seems to be capable of neutralizing hundreds of different toxins and might protect bacteria against viral infections. Panacea is the term given to the mechanism after the Greek goddess of healing, whose name has become associated with universal cure. According to the researchers, knowing the processes of bacterial toxin and antitoxin will be critical for the future effectiveness of so-called phage therapy for the treatment of antibiotic resistant illnesses.

Lund University researchers have found an antitoxin mechanism that seems to be capable of neutralizing hundreds of different toxins and may defend microorganisms against viral assaults. Panacea is the term given to the mechanism after the Greek goddess of healing, whose name has become associated with universal cure. According to the researchers, knowing the processes of bacterial toxin and antitoxin will be critical for the future effectiveness of so-called phage therapy for the treatment of antibiotic resistant illnesses. The research was published in the journal PNAS.

Toxin-antitoxin systems, which serve as an on-off switch in many bacterial DNA genomes, are increasingly being discovered to protect bacteria against bacteriophages, which are viruses that infect bacteria. Toxin activation causes bacterial populations to enter a state of dormancy, limiting development and, as a result, viral transmission. As a result, knowing the variety, processes, and development of these systems is crucial for phage treatment to treat antibiotic resistant infections to be successful. — Toxin-antitoxin pairs are made up of a gene producing a toxin that slows bacterial growth substantially and a gene encoding an antitoxin that counteracts the harmful impact. It’s like having a vial of poison next to a bottle of antidote on a shelf. While toxin-antitoxin combinations have previously evolved to interact with new toxins or antitoxins, the degree of the neutralisation ability found with Panacea — known as hyperpromiscuity — is unique, according to study leader and researcher Gemma Atkinson of Lund University.

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Chayan Kumar Saha, a PhD student and co-first author, created a computer program to analyze the types of genes located close to each other in bacterial genomes. The researchers then used this method to anticipate novel antitoxin genes discovered near some of the most effective poisons they had previously studied. “The fact that one antitoxin protein shape can be found in toxin-antitoxin-like combinations with dozens of different types of toxins surprised us. Many of these poisons have never been studied before.”

Tatsuaki Kurata of Lund University, the other initial author, has proven experimentally that some of these systems are true toxins neutralized by antitoxin genes nearby.

The findings suggest that what we know about the variety of toxin-antitoxin systems so far is likely only the tip of the iceberg, and that there might be a slew of other comparable systems that have been undiscovered until now. — The development of novel toxin-antitoxin systems is critical for so-called phage treatment against antibiotic-resistant illnesses, as well as for comprehending the strange and amazing world of bacterial biochemistry. Antibiotic resistance is rising, necessitating the development of new methods for eradicating illnesses.

Phage treatment works by administering a mixture of bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) to patients in order to destroy the bacteria that are causing the illness. To defend themselves against phages, bacteria have a variety of defense mechanisms, including toxin-antitoxin systems.

“Identifying pathogen toxin-antitoxin systems may therefore help us create phage treatment that might overcome this layer of defense in the future,” says Gemma Atkinson.

So, what’s the next stage in the research?

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“We’re currently looking for new toxin-antitoxin systems on a global scale and attempting to figure out how they play a role in phage defense. Given that toxin-antitoxin systems may be regarded of as on-off switches for essential components of bacterial life, we’re also interested in potential biotechnological applications. Toxin-antitoxin systems as a whole might be a molecular toolbox for tinkering with bacterial metabolism and managing bacterial cell resources. This is relevant in circumstances when microorganisms are utilized to create compounds of interest, such as in industrial and pharmaceutical manufacturing.”

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