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Durham University News


Scientists find new way to kill tuberculosis

(29 July 2020)

Scientists find new way to kill tuberculosis

Our scientists have found a new way to kill the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (TB).

TB is the world’s deadliest infectious disease and causes nearly 1.5 million deaths each year. Whilst most cases can be cured with proper treatment, the number of antibiotic-resistant infections are steadily increasing.

An international team of researchers co-led by Durham scientists has discovered that a toxin produced by the germ itself can be used to poison it.

The toxin blocks the use of important amino acids required by the bacteria to produce essential proteins they need to survive.

New anti-TB drugs

The researchers aim to exploit the toxin to develop new anti-TB drugs.

TB spreads as people breathe in tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person.

It mainly affects the lungs though it can affect any part of the body, including the glands, bones and nervous system.

Bacteria, such as the germs that cause TB, produce toxins to help them adapt to stress in the environment.

These toxins are normally counteracted by a matching antidote, but when they are active they can potentially slow bacterial growth and even lead to cell death.

Toxin action

The research team found a new toxin, called MenT, produced by the TB bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

They built an extremely detailed 3-D picture of MenT which, combined with genetic and biochemical data, showed that the toxin inhibits the use of amino acids needed by the bacteria to produce protein.

If it’s not neutralised by its MenA anti-toxin, MenT stalls the growth of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, causing the bacteria to die.

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