A protein found to be essential to the survival of Escherichia coli bacteria may provide a new target for antibiotics, according to researchers from Ohio State University (OSU).
The discovery could be used to help develop new therapies to combat drug-resistant bacterial infections, a major public health problem that's lacking in research.
E. coli is a type of gram-negative bacteria, which means it has an extra membrane, called the outer membrane, that makes it more difficult for a drug to get inside the cell and kill it. E. coli cells can't survive without this critical layer. But investigators think that inhibiting a protein called MurJ would get past one of these two membranes.
Scientists from OSU found that MurJ flips a fatty molecule called a lipid from one side of a bacterial cell membrane to the other. If that molecule isn't flipped, the cell isn't able to build the necessary layer that keeps pressurized contents of the cell contained. If the contents aren't contained, the cell bursts.
"We have proof of principle that MurJ is actually a valid target because we showed that if we stop it from working, the cells will die within 10 minutes--very quickly," said Natividad Ruiz, an assistant professor of microbiology at OSU and a co-lead author of the study.
The research is published in the journal Science.
Scientists have long known most of the steps needed to create this membrane layer, which consists of sugars and amino acids cross-linked with each other. What remained unknown was which protein could get a specific lipid required for constructing this layer to change its location, from the inside of the inner membrane to the outside of that membrane.