The bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae – which can cause pneumonia, meningitis, bacteremia and sepsis – likes to share its antibiotic-defeating weaponry with its neighbors. Individual cells can pass resistance genes to one another through a process called horizontal gene transfer, or by "transformation," the uptake of DNA from the environment.
Now researchers report that they can interrupt the cascade of cellular events that allows S. pneumoniae to swap or suck up DNA. The new findings, reported in the journal PLoS ONE, advance the effort to develop a reliable method for shutting down the spread of drug resistance in bacteria.
"Within the last few decades, S. pneumoniae has developed resistance to several classes of antibiotics," said University of Illinois pathobiology professor Gee Lau, who led the study. "Importantly, it has been shown that antibiotic stress – the use of antibiotics to treat an infection – can actually induce the transfer of resistance genes among S. pneumoniae. Our approach inhibits resistance gene transfer in all strains of S. pneumoniae, and does so without increasing selective pressure and without increasing the likelihood that resistant strains will become dominant."
Lau and his colleagues focused on blocking a protein that, when it binds to a receptor in the bacterial cell membrane, spurs a series of events in the cell that makes the bacterium "competent" to receive new genetic material. The researchers hypothesized that interfering with this protein (called CSP) would hinder its ability to promote gene transfer.
In previous work published late last year in the journal PLoS Pathogens, Lau's team identified proteins that could be made in the lab that were structurally very similar to the CSP proteins. These artificial CSPs can dock with the membrane receptors, block the bacterial CSPs' access to the receptors and reduce bacterial competence, as well as reducing the infectious capacity of S. pneumoniae.
In the new study, the researchers fine-tuned the amino acid structure of more than a dozen artificial CSPs and tested how well they inhibited the S. pneumoniae CSPs. They also tested their ability (or, more desirably, their inability) to mimic the activity of CSPs in bacterial cells.
"The chemical properties of individual amino acids in a protein can greatly influence the protein's activity," Lau said.
The team identified several artificial CSPs that both inhibited the bacterial CSPs and reduced S. pneumoniae competence by more than 90 percent.
"This strategy will likely help us reduce the spread of antibiotic-resistance genes among S. pneumoniae and perhaps other species of streptococcus bacteria," Lau said.
Paper: "Saturated Alanine Scanning Mutagenesis of the Pneumococcus Competence Stimulating Peptide Identifies Analogs That Inhibit Genetic Transformation." PLoS ONE
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: http://www.uiuc.edu
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Zookeepers are keeping an eye on the 120-pound giraffe calf, making sure he's getting all the nutrition he needs. He could make his first appearance in the feeding habitat as soon as next week.
Biologists are reporting signs of a possible zombie apocalypse. Well, at least for the honeybee population. A parasite that has been turning bees on the West Coast into zombie-like creatures has started infecting bees in the East, and biologists are still puzzled as to how it all works.
An innate ability some people have to manipulate their vocal frequency could be the key to sounding charismatic, according to new research.
Time-lapse imagery of scavengers tucking in proves that dead jellyfish aren't unpalatable after all, so can return nutrients to the sea's food webs
When bird pairs break up females often lay more eggs with a new partner, but the split can be disastrous for the male of the species
Spontaneous gene mutations, not ones inherited from parents, increase a child's risk of autism, scientists say. By comparing genes within families they've identified more than 100 suspects.
Slovenian archaeologist Ivan prajc is behind discovery of three significant ruins in the remote jungles of the Yucatán peninsula
Every year, Nikon selects the most artful, scientifically enlightening and skillfully produced images from thousands of submissions for its Small World microscope photography contest. Tomorrow, another set of impressive winners will be announced for the contest’s 40th year.
Seaview divers routinely cover 2 kilometers in a dive and generate 3,000 panoramic images in a day. Only a fraction of the best are uploaded to Google Street View.
Meeting sharks can be a moving experience, says photographer Jean-Marie Ghislain, who works to educate people on the plight of sharks around the world