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Bacteria use gene transmission to pass on resistance
The development of resistant bacterial strains is a major problem worldwide. Medicinal treatments lose their effect and previously well-controlled diseases become a deadly danger. The rapid spread of resistance is made possible by the exchange of genetic information between the bacteria. Scientists from the Institute of Molecular Biosciences at the University of Graz, together with British researchers, have investigated exactly how this works.
The exchange of genetic information allows bacteria to pass on resistance. The current results of the research team led by Prof. Dr. According to Ellen Zechner from the Institute for Molecular Biosciences at the University of Graz, the enzyme relaxase plays a crucial role. In their study, the scientists deciphered the structure of the enzyme that influences the exchange of DNA between bacteria. With its help, entire populations of pathogens can become resistant to various antibiotics within a very short time, the experts emphasize. The researchers' results were published in the renowned journal “Cell”.
Structure of the key enzyme determined
"The rapidly growing number of bacterial strains that antibiotics can no longer harm is a major challenge for medicine and research," warn the scientists. The exchange of genetic information among pathogens plays an essential role in the development of resistance. The experts explain that bacteria can basically exchange genetic information since the 1950s. So far, however, the exact sequence of this process has remained largely unclear. "Despite intensive research, we have only now been able to determine the structure of the key enzyme responsible for this," emphasizes Prof. Zechner.
Large amounts of DNA are transferred within minutes
According to the scientists, gene transfer between bacteria takes place with the support of the enzyme relaxase, which selectively selects genetic information, cuts through the two DNA strands and transports one of them through a tunnel into the neighboring bacterium. The missing strand is replicated in a very short time and both bacteria subsequently show the immunity to certain medications that is transferred in this way. The resistance can in turn be passed on by both bacteria. In this way, “large amounts of DNA are transferred within minutes”, which explains why antibiotic resistance is spreading so rapidly, Prof. Zechner reports.
Approach for new active ingredients
The researchers hope that their findings could help in the future to "develop new active substances that prevent the exchange of genes between bacteria." Prof. Zechner. According to the experts, the current study results now provide completely new clues to switch off the relaxase and thus curb the spread of antibiotic resistance. (fp)