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UGA scientists unravel 'molecular inch-worm' structure of walking-pneumonia bacterium

Researchers at the University of Georgia, using glow-in-the-dark proteins and microcinematography, have helped unravel the development and function of a complex organelle in the bacterium that causes "walking pneumonia."

The researchers have described in new, precise detail the unique cell extension that forms on one end of the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae. This structure, called a "terminal organelle," performs several tasks for this pervasive bacterium and even acts as a "molecular inch-worm," helping the microorganism move.

"Mycoplasmas are among the simplest known prokaryotes--only a fraction the size of other health-related bacteria such as E. coli," said microbiologist Duncan Krause, leader of the research team. "They are true minimalists with very small genomes, lacking the typical cell regulatory mechanisms found in other bacteria. And yet some species such as M. pneumoniae posses this complex terminal organelle. We've been able to observe it in growing cultures and describe the choreography of events at a level of detail not previously possible."

The research is being published this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Other authors of the paper include graduate student Benjamin Hasselbring, undergraduate Robert Krause and former graduate student Jarrat Jordan.

M. pneumoniae infections affect millions worldwide, causing chronic bronchitis and atypical or "walking pneumonia," a term that describes cases of pneumonia that are distinct from acute, life-threatening pneumonia requiring a patient's hospitalization.

Krause and others have been increasingly interested in the terminal organelle that develops on one end of M. pneumoniae because it is involved in cell division, adherence to respiratory tissues and a little-understood mechanism of propulsion called "gliding motility."

Bacteria can move in a variety of ways, including the use of flagella to "swim." But since M. pneumon
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Contact: Philip Lee Williams
phil@franklin.uga.edu
706-542-8501
University of Georgia
23-Oct-2006


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