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Nanoinjectors Pose a New Target for Antibiotic Research

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Image, courtesy of Dr. Matthew Lefebre and Professor Jorge Galan (Yale University), shows parts of nanoinjectors from Salmonella as seen under an electron microscope. Image Source: University of Kansas Press.

If you’ve ever suffered the misery of food poisoning from a bacterium like Shigella or Salmonella, then your cells have been on the receiving end of “nanoinjectors” — microscopic spikes made from proteins through which pathogens secrete effector proteins into human host cells, causing infection. Many bacteria use nanoinjectors to infect millions of people around the world every year. Today, Roberto De Guzman, associate professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Kansas, is leading a research group that is evaluating the potential of nanoinjectors as a target for a new class of antibiotics. Their work is funded by a five-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. “This grant will support our studies on elucidating how bacterial nanoinjectors are assembled,” said De Guzman. “Nanoinjectors are protein machinery used by bacterial pathogens to inject virulence proteins into human cells to cause infectious diseases. They are nanoscale is size — they look like needles and bacteria use them to inject virulence proteins into host cells — so I called them nanoinjectors. In microbiology, they are known as part of the type III secretion system, a protein delivery machinery.” The KU researcher said nanoinjectors are unique to pathogenic bacteria and are absolutely required for infectivity. Most people have heard of the diseases caused by bacterial pathogens that employ nanoinjectors — several of which have changed the course of the human experience for the worse.