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Bacterial ribosomes will help in the search for new antibiotics

16.08.2017 Health, Recommended

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More and more dangerous bacteria are resistant to antibiotics used today; research conducted by Dr. Agata Starosta at Maria Curie-Sklodowska University may lead to the development of new types of these drugs. The key to creating new antibiotics can be hidden in the variable nature of bacterial ribosomes.

The basis for the functioning of every living cell is the hierarchical management of genetic information stored in DNA. DNA code contains a functional manual for each cell - RNA, in turn, has the role of an intermediary in the management of this information. "The information contained in DNA is transcribed into RNA in a process called transcription, and then RNA data is translated into protein sequences in the protein biosynthesis process" - Dr. Agata Starosta explained in an interview with PAP. "The heart of this process is the ribosome. It converts genetic information into a protein that is the basis for the functioning of all living organisms".


Ribosomes - sometimes called molecular nanomachines - are in centre of interest of the Polish researcher.


"Over the decades, ribosome was considered a homogeneous system that reads in RNA in an unchanged manner" - says Dr. Starosta. "For that reason, it has never been perceived as a system that regulates the flow of information in a cell".


In recent years, however, the hypothesis of the so-called specialized ribosomes was formulated. It assumes that there are small subspopulations of ribosomes with different structures. Thanks to this diversity, the translational machine, part of which are ribosomes, gains new functional properties - it is able to read information only from selected RNA carriers. "This way, we gain an additional, previously not characterized level of regulation of protein expression" - the researcher told PAP.


Dr. Starosta explained that a dysfunction of this translation machinery leads to various metabolic disorders. In the case of a human it can result in ribosomopathy - diseases associated with disorders of the organs such as the heart or spleen, or with cancer.


"In bacteria, translation is a very attractive resource for use in biotechnology research, in the development of new antibiotics" - said Dr. Starosta. She added that the search for new antibiotics was important because in recent years the range of available antibiotics had decreased significantly. "This is due to the emergence of bacteria resistant to many known antibiotics. We want to use our research to find new ways to develop specific translation inhibitors - and thus create new types of antibiotics" - the researcher said.


The research team headed by Dr. Starosta will focus on the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, also known as the hay bacillus. It has a special property: it produces spores. "Importantly, the spores of various bacteria are practically everywhere" - explained Dr. Starosta. These spores are extremely resistant to all forms of disinfection - they can survive both very high and low temperatures, ionizing radiation or the effects of strong chemicals.


"These bacteria are usually harmless to us - but some are very dangerous" - said Dr. Starosta. This includes B. anthracis used in bioterrorist attacks, B. cereus, which causes food poisoning, or Clostridium difficile, the cause of pseudomembranous colitis, acute gastrointestinal disease that may end in death. "Although B. subtilis is their close relative, it is not dangerous to humans, making it a great research subject" - the researcher added.


The research group working on at UMCS will study the life cycle of B. subtilis - primarily the course of the translation process, the role played by specialized ribosomes and the search for the factors necessary for the functioning of the spores.


"I hope that we can identify the factors affecting heterogenity (diversity) of ribosomes" - said Dr. Starosta. "Deciphering them may open the way to developing new antibiotics that will interfere with the translation process in a very selective way. Earlier studies have shown that selective disabling of biosynthesis of certain proteins in the cell causes the accumulation of toxic proteins in the bacteria - and consequently its death" - concluded the researcher.


Dr. Agata Starosta is a laureate of the FIRST TEAM programme of the Foundation for Polish Science. The research project, which will be carried out at Maria Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin, received a Foundation for Polish Science grant of nearly PLN 2 million.


PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Katarzyna Florencka


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Tags: life , ribosomes
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