GlycoNet researchers tackle bacterial biofilm development and pathogenesis

By Chardelle Prevatt

The opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa causes severe infections in patients with cystic fibrosis. In patients with compromised immune defenses, these infections can lead to serious complications, reduced quality of life, and high mortality rates.

P. aeruginosa infections are challenging to treat since the bacteria coat themselves in a sticky slime or biofilm that protects them against antibiotics. This slime has many components, one of which is a sugar polymer called PEL. P. aeruginosa secretes this polymer specifically to make the slime stronger during the beginning stages of infection. In a recently published paper based on a GlycoNet-funded project, GlycoNet researchers Dr. Lynne Howell, Lindsey Marmont, Gregory Whitfield, and their colleagues focus on the protein PelC that is required to make PEL.

In the paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March 2017, the researchers determine the three-dimensional structure of the protein PelC that provides insight into its role in PEL production. In addition, because of the unique structure of PelC, the research team was able to find over one hundred other bacteria that also appear to have the machinery required to make PEL.

“Antibiotic resistance continues to be one of the biggest threats to global health,” explained Dr. Lynne Howell. “Therefore, bacterial biofilm development and pathogenesis has become a critical issue.

Lindsey Marmont, a Ph.D. candidate in Howell’s lab and first author of the paper, added, “These new insights can help us to understand biofilm configuration, how biofilms can be disrupted, and ultimately how patients with bacterial infections can benefit from more effective antibiotic treatment.”

Their work will facilitate additional studies into other infectious bacteria and provide a platform for therapeutic target development.

To view the full research paper, click here.

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