With a microbe-produced toxin, bacteria prove old dogs can learn new tricks

ScienceDaily | 10/19/2018 | Staff
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"What is special about this toxin," noted UW Medicine microbiologist Brook Peterson, "is that it acts by the same biochemical mechanism as some infamous toxins employed by human pathogens, which evolved much later than the toxins bacteria use against each other."

These include the diphtheria, pertussis and cholera toxins. These toxins use similar biochemical mechanisms to impair vital proteins inside host cells For example, the profuse diarrhea that occurs in cholera is a direct result of how its toxin forces cells in the gut to expel too much water and salt by interfering with internal signals. Although bacteria don't get diarrhea, a look under the microscope shows that they do get visibly sick while they are succumbing to the recently identified toxin, named Tre1.

Peterson - Research - Scientist - Laboratory - Joseph

Peterson is a research scientist in the laboratory of Joseph Mougous, professor of microbiology and biochemistry at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

For this work on bacterial skirmishes, they studied Serratia proteamaculans. Some strains of this ubiquitous bacteria promote plant growth or live inside tree roots. Some strains inhabit the digestive tract of insects and other animals, and others spoil meat or seafood.

Peterson - Researchers - Project - Team - Toxin

Peterson was one of the senior researchers on the project team that uncovered the new toxin and outlined how bacteria deploy this weapon.

The group also found out how some of the bacteria were protected from poisoning themselves. The findings are published today in the journal Cell.

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