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Molecular image of genotoxin reveals how bacteria damage human DNA

er before physically testing them, drug makers save time and money.

Stebbins' laboratory includes a drug-design team, which is currently designing molecules to thwart bioterrorism agents such as anthrax and plague. In the future, the lab might design a drug against the CDT toxin, Stebbins says.

"We can screen three million molecules against a particular target in two weeks by computer," says Stebbins. "That's good for finding about 500 molecules that are potential drugs that can be examined for activity against a protein. But after that come other hurdles, such as whether molecules can enter and work within cells and organisms."

The hardest part of solving CDT's structure was isolating hundreds of milligrams of the toxin in a pure form, says first author Nesic, who went through more than 24 gallons of buffer solution per week in order to purify the toxin into a form that could be used for crystallization. It took Nesic nearly two years to obtain the crystals she needed for X-ray crystallography - a technique that records the pattern produced when X-rays bounce off a target protein crystal.

"You have to find the right conditions and the right concentrations for crystallization," said Nesic. "You start with liters, and you end up with a single drop."

Stebbins has solved the structures of over ten other proteins, including the cancer-related VHL tumor-suppressor and several other bacterial toxins, before solving the structure of CDT.


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