New, improved drugs could result from first-ever transfer of DNA information from one species of streptomyces to another

ATHENS, Ga. -- Researchers at the University of Georgia have, for the first time, successfully transferred DNA into genetically uncharacterized species of the important bacterium Streptomyces. The system is based on the use of phages (bacterial viruses) that infect these bacteria to transfer DNA from the host they are grown on to a recipient they later infect.

This procedure has several important advantages over current technology and will make it far easier (an in some cases possible) for pharmaceutical companies to develop Streoptomyces-based antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs. Results of the study were published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The print version of the research will be published on May 22.

This will allow for the first time, for example, the study and manipulation of the bleomycin biosynthetic pathway in the producing organism. Bleomycin is an important anti-cancer chemotherapeutic drug that has so far been completely refractory to genetic manipulation, said Dr. Janet Westpheling, a UGA geneticist and leader of the research team. We anticipate that the ability to get DNA into this strain of Streptomyces will lead to the production of novel bleomycins.

Westpheling, who reported on the discovery at an international meeting in Singapore in late February, gives major credit for the discovery to two students in her laboratory who were convinced that the transfer--long thought impossible by several scientists--could be successfully accomplished.

Graduate student Julie Burke and an undergraduate David Schneider (now at the department of bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) originated the idea for the transfer system. A patent for the use of this technology in antibiotic drug discovery was issued to the University of Georgia Research Foundation in November.

Support for the work came from the National Science Foundation, Phizer Pharmaceutical Compa

Contact: Jan Westpheling
University of Georgia

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