August 17, 2018
Bacteria cause many serious illnesses, from food poisoning to pneumonia. The challenge for scientists is that disease-causing bacteria are extraordinarily resilient. For example, when bacteria like Escherichia coli (E. coli) undergo starvation, they massively reorganize their bacterial DNA, allowing them to survive stressful conditions.
In order to accomplish this feat and up their chance of survival, E. coli strains dramatically increase the amount of a protein called Dps, which compacts the bacterial DNA into a dense, crystal-like complex and protects it from being damaged. While previous research indicated that Dps is what protects bacteria from succumbing to starvation and other stressors, researchers did not know how this special protein worked.
In a new paper published in Cell, Anne Meyer, an associate professor of biology at the University of Rochester, along with Elio Abbondanzieri, a research associate, and other colleagues, describe some of the unique characteristics of Dps that help bacteria survive stressful conditions. Their research may help lead to more targeted antibiotics and other drug therapies.