A molecular Achilles heel of the deadly bug that causes tuberculosis has been exposed.
Scientists have been able to render Mycobacterium tuberculosis harmless by blocking the formation of a single ring-like component, called cyclopropane, on its surface.
The team at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York devised a way to knock out the gene that leads to the molecule's synthesis and were hence able to create a mutant strain of the bacterium that is not lethal in mice.
Their harmless variety cannot form the serpentine colonies inside its host that are a key characteristic of the pathogen's virulence.
Researcher William Jacobs said the research, described in the latest issue of the journal Molecular Cell, offers a new target for the development of drugs that could greatly speed the treatment of TB, a disease that kills 2 million people every year.
"While the wild-type strain kills the mice, the knockout strain lacking only a single ring structure on a mycolic acid, does not," he said.
"Development of drugs to target this cyclopropane synthetase could give us a far more powerful ability to kill this persistent organism, possibly reducing treatment time from six months to two weeks."