Finding Mycobacterium’s secret weapon
The bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB) is difficult to eliminate completely as subpopulations often persist after antibiotics have killed the majority of cells. Now, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, USA, have discovered just what it is that allows the microbes to survive: a single protein. Looking at Mycobacterium smegmatis, a close relative of TB-causing M. tuberculosis, the team were able to show that this protein allows the bacteria to be more likely to mutate when they divide. Usually, when bacterial cells reproduce by dividing, they split into two that look exactly the same. With the help of this protein, mycobacteria cells can reproduce with more variety, making them more difficult to target by the antibiotics that we have. Understanding this means that, in future, scientists could find ways to inhibit the protein, or the gene that produces it, making the micro-organism easier to combat.