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Scientists discover how anthrax creates its deadly spores

ANN ARBOR, MI - In the age-old battle between man and microbe, it pays to know your enemy. This is especially true for Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax. Tiny spores of this highly infectious pathogen can survive drought, bitter cold and other harsh conditions for decades, yet still germinate almost instantly to infect and kill once inside an animal or human host.

In a collaboration funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the National Institutes of Health, scientists from three major research institutions - the University of Michigan, The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), and The Scripps Research Institute - are working together to identify the genes and proteins involved in anthrax's deadly metamorphosis. Their work provides information other researchers can use to develop new vaccines and treatments targeted at specific points in the complex process of anthrax growth and spore formation.

The first results of the collaboration's work will be published as the cover story in the Jan. 1, 2004 issue of the Journal of Bacteriology and posted Dec. 18, 2003 on the journal's web site. This study is the first analysis of a bacterial pathogen using the combined investigative tools of genomics and proteomics. It is also the first study to document, at a molecular level, all the genes and proteins involved in B.anthracis spore formation.

Major findings of the study include:

  • When compared to other bacteria, anthrax spore formation is an unusually complex and intricate process.
  • Up to one-third of all the genes in the Bacillus anthracis genome are involved in spore production.
  • Genes are expressed in five discrete phases over a five-hour time period.
  • Each mature anthrax spore contains about 750 individual proteins.

"The most surprising result of this study is the degree of dedication this organism devotes to maki
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Contact: Sally Pobojewski
pobo@umich.edu
734-615-6912
University of Michigan Health System
16-Dec-2003


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