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'Superglue' Made From Flesh-eating Bacteria Enhanced By New Research

Apr 11, 2013 04:44 PM EDT
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Scientists have enhanced a "molecular superglue" made from proteins harvested from a flesh-eating bacteria.

"We've turned the tables and put one kind of flesh-eating bacterium to good use," said Mark Howarth, who led the research, according to a statement. "We have engineered one of its proteins into a molecular superglue that adheres so tightly that the set-up we used to measure the strength actually broke. It resists high and low temperatures, acids and other harsh conditions and seals quickly. With this material we can lock proteins together in ways that could underpin better diagnostic tests - for early detection of cancer cells circulating in the blood, for instance. There are many uses in research, such as probing how the forces inside cells change the biochemistry and affect health and disease."

The protein, known as FbaB, used to engineer the superglue is found in Streptococcus pyogenes, a microbe that can cause the necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria syndrome, in which difficult-to-treat infections destroy body tissue.

Researchers split the protein into two uneven parts, a small peptide and a larger protein. The compounds quickly lock together, forming one of the strongest possible chemical bonds and can be attached to the millions of proteins in the human body and other living things, thus gluing proteins together. 

The latest research on the system found a way to make the protein part of the system smaller. The development will reportedly allow engineers to connect the proteins into new structures.. One new application is to use the technology to a way to detect circulating tumor cells, which are shed in the bloodstream. Worldwide research on circulating tumor cells is underway as the cells are connected to the way cancer spreads throughout the body, which is what makes it so deadly. 

The results were reported at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society.

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