Crippling an Infection: Researchers Target Bacteria Mobility

Nov 21, 2014 04:34 PM EST

With antibiotic resistance becoming ever more common among bacteria, researchers are pursuing new ways to help fight potential infections. Now, a team of experts says they have identified the mechanism behind the mobility of some bacteria, allowing them to look into ways to literally cripple these dangerous bugs.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Veterinary Research, which details how researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna have identified the proteins that allow the bacterium Mycoplasma gallisepticum to glide over surfaces and spread to new hosts.

M. gallisepticum causes chronic respiratory disease in birds and is related to the human pathogen Mycoplasma pneumoniae, the causative agent of human bronchitis and pneumonia.

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Both these bacteria use the same form of mobility - a gliding mechanism that allows them to effortlessly travel across surfaces and potentially even invade and traverse body cells without detection.

"Most mycoplasmas cannot glide. Gliding species have so far been found only in the respiratory and genital tracts - places in which there is a directional mucus flow," study director Michael Szostak explained in a statement. "We believe that the gliding bacteria possibly move against this flow in order to reach deeper-lying regions of the body."

However, as best said by the fictional character Dr. Fassbach in the blockbuster movie World War Z, "sometimes the thing you thought was the most brutal aspect of the [illness], turns out to be the chink in its armor. And [nature] loves disguising her weaknesses as strengths."

Take the gliding effect away, and these Mycroplasma are left up a mucus creek without a paddle.

That's why Szostack and first author Ivana Indikova worked to determine what was behind this essential mechanism. They quickly discovered that the proteins GapA, CrmA, and Mgc2 are indispensable for M. gallisepticum and its gliding relatives.

"If the bacteria are missing one of these three proteins, they are no longer able to move... We could target the motility genes to turn them off and so render the bacteria harmless," Szostak said.

However, while reason says it's likely, it remains uncertain if non-moving bacteria are actually less infectious, and the researchers still have to determine how exactly to rob these pathogens of their proteins. More work, they say, will need to be done to answer these question.

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