New Brunswick, NJ -- Rutgers researchers have discovered that the Chlamydia bacterium, which causes a sexually transmitted disease (STD), shares an evolutionary heritage with plants. That shared evolutionary heritage, which is not found in most other bacteria, points to a prime target for development of an effective cure for Chlamydia infections.
"The unique connection between the Chlamydia bacterium and plants had been proposed by others," said Thomas Leustek," a professor in the department of plant biology and pathology at Rutgers' School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (formerly Cook College). "But we have now described a specific example demonstrating the common heritage. That specific example, an enzyme that supports protein production, could lead to antibiotics specific for this form of STD."
The discovery is an unexpected turn in solving the mystery of how plants produce lysine, one of the 20 amino acids normally found in proteins. Scientists have known the specific pathways of lysine production in bacteria for more than a half-century. They also have known some of the steps by which lysine is produced in plants, but they didn't really have the full picture. Leustek and Andre Hudson, a postdoc working in Leustek's lab in Rutgers' Biotechnology Center for Agriculture and the Environment, were able to solve the pathway when they discovered the gene encoding the enzyme L,L-diaminopimelate aminotransferase from the plant Arabdiopsis thaliana. The results of this discovery were published in the journal Plant Physiology in January 2006.
The gene that Leustek and Hudson had discovered was unmistakably similar to a sequence that Anthony Maurelli of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., had detected in Chlamydia. "Further experimentation confirmed that the Chlamydial gene had the same function as the Arabidopisis gene demonstrating their common ancestry," said Leustek. "If they had evolved
Contact: Michele Hujber
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey