Germ warfare

May 9, 1997

(Photograph) - Germ warfare: Battles between bacteria are to be put under the microscope at the University of East Anglia thanks to a Pounds 950,000 grant from the Wellcome Trust. Scientists are to use the grant to study how bacteria make and use toxins to kill each other selectively.

According to protein chemist Colin Kleanthous, bacteria appear to try to outdo each other as they battle for limited nutrients by producing poisonous toxins. But in order to avoid committing suicide, they also make antidote proteins for themselves, which are pictured here. The yellow/red ribbons represent molecular features that determine the ability of the Imnine protein to provide immunity to the bacteria.

The researchers will be examining how the toxins use complex nutrient pathways to enter the bacteria. They hope that by understanding more about the process they may eventually be able to develop very selective "magic-bullet" antibiotics which, like the toxins, can enter and kill bacteria selectively.

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