The search for new antibiotics is a race against time where a lot is at stake. A new breakthrough could be hiding in an unlikely place: sugarcane.
An unknown mechanism… until now. The evil of some can be the medicine of others. In this case, the toxin that affects the sugarcane plant may become the key element for the development of a new antibiotic candidate, albicidin. The toxin is released, curiously, by another bacterium, called Xanthomonas albilineans.
Albicidin is one of the great promises in the field of antibiotics, but it is not a new compound, but an old acquaintance that had already shown promise against bacteria as dangerous as Escherichia coli or Staphylococcus aureus.
Despite this, turning albicidin into a viable drug faced a problem, and that is that the mechanism through which this toxin managed to get rid of bacteria was unknown. Now a European team of researchers has unraveled the mechanism by which the toxin released by this bacterium acts.
Straight to the DNA. The work has recently been published in the journal Nature Catalysis. In it, the team describes how albicidin works. The key lies in gyrase, an enzyme that attaches to DNA to twist it (supercoiled), a twist necessary for proper cell function that albicidin prevents.
The researchers describe this process as “putting a spanner between two gears”, since this L-shaped molecule can interact with both the DNA strand and the gyrase.
The supercoiling process is very delicate. To do this, the gyrase must “cut” the double helix of DNA. Under normal conditions, the enzyme reattaches the DNA segments when finishing its task, but it is precisely at this moment of weakness that albicidin acts. The resulting broken DNA is lethal to the cell, be it a sugarcane cell or a bacterial cell.
A new (and still distant) hope. The researchers are optimistic. “It seems that, due to the nature of the interaction, albicidin affects a really essential part of the enzyme and it is difficult for the bacterium to develop resistance against it,” explained Dmitry Ghilarov, one of the authors of the study, in a press release.
Ghilarov also pointed out how understanding this albicidin mode of operation may allow researchers to further explore its functions and even introduce modifications to “improve its efficacy and pharmacological properties.”
This entire process, until we achieve antibiotics based on this molecule, can take years. It is an important advance in any case, since the fight against superbugs is a race in which bacteria cut the lead that we lead by leaps and bounds.
What nature gives us. The case of albicidin is vaguely reminiscent of the discovery of the first antibiotic. The penicillin that we consume today was synthesized from the mechanism by which molds of the genus Penicillium destroyed bacterial cultures in the laboratory of Alexander Flemming.
This is but a sample of the amount of information hidden in living beings on this planet, even among parasitic and pathogenic species such as bacteria that threaten sugarcane crops, we can find hope to fight against pests that affect human beings. .
Image | victoria priessnitz
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