Washington, Apr 9 : Researchers from Johns Hopkins University have uncovered the mystery concerning how certain proteins lead to the reproduction of bacteria, a finding that could open up the possibility of developing new type of antibiotics.
The scientists reported how a belt-like structure called a Z ring, which nip a rod-shaped bacterium to produce two offspring, can be disabled by a protein called MinC.
"The potential medical applications of our discovery are significant," said Alex Dajkovic, lead author of the paper.
"Because the molecules involved in cell division are very similar in almost all bacteria, the process we uncovered provides a new target for the people who make antibiotics.
"This is extremely important because antibiotic resistance is on the rise, and many preventable deaths, especially in the developing world, are caused by bacterial infections," he added.
Dajkovic and the team identified new molecular targets that could disrupt bacterial cell division. If the bacteria can't reproduce, the infection will die.
The researchers studied the rod-shaped bacterium E. coli, found in the human digestive tract. When these single-celled microbes want to multiply, a structure called the Z ring forms, then begins to tighten like a rubber band around each bacterium's midsection.
The main components of Z rings are filaments of a protein molecule called FtsZ.
The team found that changing of FtsZ threads from a liquid-like form to a more solid structure inside the cell is important for the formation of the Z ring.
They also found that MinC, a protein found inside the bacterial cell, disrupts this process by liquefying the structure that is used to form a Z ring.
"MinC blocks the attraction between FtsZ filaments along their lengths, and it also makes the filaments more fragile," said Dajkovic.
"This has the effect of shearing the weavings in the tapestry of the Z ring, which causes the whole structure to fall apart," he added.
The researchers said that by exploiting this vulnerability, pharmaceutical companies might find a way to fight infections that no longer respond to older medications.
The study is published in the journal Current Biology.