McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Superbug’s CPU revealed

Published: June 3, 2010
Nathan Magarvey
Nathan Magarvey, an assistant professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences
Diagram: nonribosomal peptides are necessary for Hemolysis
Diagram: nonribosomal peptides are necessary for Hemolysis
[Click for larger version]

McMaster researchers discover chemical clue directing Staphylococcus aureus

The team has revealed that a small chemical, made by the superbug Staphylococcus aureus and its drug-resistant forms, determines this disease's strength and ability to infect. The researchers are members of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research and the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences.

An article on the breakthrough appears in the high-impact journal Science today.

The team from the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research has revealed that a small chemical, made by the superbug Staphylococcus aureus and its drug-resistant forms, determines this disease’s strength and ability to infect.

The bacteria is the cause for a wide range of difficult-to-treat human infectious diseases such as pneumonia, toxic-shock syndrome and flesh-eating diseases. It has become known as the superbug as it has become increasingly resistant to antibiotics and especially troublesome in hospitals.

The discovery will provide new options for fight back and disable the virulent bacteria.

"We’ve found that when these small chemicals in the bacteria are shut down, the bacteria is rendered non-functional and non-infectious," said Nathan Magarvey, principal investigator for the study and an assistant professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences at McMaster. "We’re now set on hacking into this pathogen and making its system crash."

To identify these "pathogen small molecule CPUs", the researchers used cutting-edge chemical mining tools to reveal the molecular wiring associated with their formation. Then, to uncover its function, the McMaster scientists shut off its synthesis, showing that the deadly pathogens had been tamed and unable to burst open red blood cells.

The McMaster team also collaborated with the University of Western Ontario and the University of Nebraska to further delve into how this "small molecule CPU" works and functions to engage Staphylococcus aureus in its destructive and harmful behaviours.

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