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Anthrax bacterium's deadly secrets probed

New insights into why the bug that causes anthrax behaves in the unusual way that it does have come to light thanks to a development under the UK e-Science Programme. Researchers at the North East Regional e-Science Centre have found that the proteins the anthrax bacterium secretes equip it to grow only in an animal host and not in the soil.

This finding sheds light on why Bacillus anthracis does not grow in soil, even though in many ways it resembles a soil-growing bacterium. It has the ability to lie dormant in soil for, in some cases, hundreds of years and then to cause a rapid, often fatal, illness when ingested by a suitable animal host. Bioterrorists have exploited this ability to deadly effect.

Dr. Anil Wipat, Professor Colin Harwood, Tracy Craddock and colleagues at the North East Regional e-Science Centre in Newcastle revealed the new insights after developing a method for deducing and characterising the proteins a bacterium secretes simply from a knowledge of its genome sequence.

Secreted proteins equip a bacterium to survive in its environment and so reveal much about its lifestyle. A soil-living bacterium, for example, secretes proteins that enable it to take up nutrients from the soil. A disease-causing bacterium may secrete proteins that subvert the hosts immune system, enabling the bacterium to infect cells or survive in the bloodstream. Knowledge of a pathogenic bacteriums secreted proteins and how they function can therefore help with the search for treatments.

As genes carry the code for proteins, researchers are able to use knowledge of a bacteriums genes to deduce all the proteins it produces. Difficulty arises when trying to pick out only the proteins that are secreted. Methods exist to do this, but are very time-consuming, given that many bacteria secrete 4000 or more proteins. Now, however, the Newcastle researchers have developed an automatic method which makes the identification, analysis an
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Contact: Dr. Anil Wipat
anil.wipat@newcastle.ac.uk
01-912-228-213
Research Councils UK
6-Aug-2007


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