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Bacteria use 'molecular lasso' to cop copper

thane to methyl alcohol. A very reactive atom, copper is just the ticket for metabolizing methane, which--chemically speaking--is a hard nut to crack. Their reactivity also makes copper atoms toxic to the bacteria. Thus, methanobactin serves to keep copper under control and protect the bacterial cells from it.

One piece of the story still to be learned is how the methanobactin is retrieved by bacterial cells, Kim said. The cells apparently latch onto copper-bearing methanobactin molecules, but what happens next isn't known. Also, unlike a cowboy's lasso, methanobactin has no tether to its mother cell. Therefore, when bacterial cells release their methanobactin molecules, they probably never see them again; instead, they take delivery of copper from methanobactin released by other cells of the same species. Thus, copper gathering amounts to a bacterial free-trading market.

Methanobactin also seems to keep other bacteria out of the market.

"Synthesized compounds analogous to some parts of the methanobactin molecule have been shown to be antibacterial," said Kim. "Researchers in the laboratory of Alan DiSpirito at Iowa State University are exploring the antibacterial properties of this compound."

Besides Kim, co-authors of the Science paper include DiSpirito and David Graham, who was Kim's adviser at the time the work was done and is an associate professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at the University of Kansas. Kim is currently working in the laboratory of Alan Hooper, professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics at the University of Minnesota. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and the KU (University of Kansas) Research Development Fund.


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Contact: Deane Morrison
morri029@umn.edu
612-624-2346
University of Minnesota
9-Sep-2004


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