TB bug made harmless

May 5, 2000

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."

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