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Single atom controls movement of bacteria: study

tech reviews Updated: Jan 12, 2010 13:29 IST
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In a discovery that can help explain how bacteria infect their hosts, American scientists have claimed that a single atom of calcium controls their movement.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have identified a spot on a human pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, that when blocked, can stop it in its tracks.

The scientists said, "the finding identifies a key step in the process by which bacteria infect their hosts and could one day lead to new drug targets to prevent infection".

"When it comes down to it, a single atom makes all the difference," senior study author Matthew R Redinbo wrote in journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For the last few years, Redinbo and his team has been trying to find out how bacteria's tiny legs or pili function.

They found that these pili act as grappling hooks -- the bacteria extend the fibers out, the fibers attach or stick to a surface and then retracted back into the bacteria, pulling it along.

"This crawling movement is called twitching motility, and without it Pseudomonas, a common cause of hospital-acquired pneumonia, would never be able to move from the lung tissue into the bloodstream, where the infection becomes lethal".