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Resistant germs: researchers from Graz and London decode gene transfer among bacteria

germs © Karl Franzens University Graz

Ellen Zechner of the Institute for Molecular Biosciences at the University of Graz took a major step forward to finding a solution to this problem. With her working group and cooperation partners in London, she decoded the structure of the relaxase enzyme which helps to bacteria to exchange DNA. Thanks to this process, entire populations of pathogens can become resistant against different antibiotics within an extremely short time. The latest findings concerning the structure, functioning and characteristics of the enzyme were published kin the current issue of the scientific journal “Cell”.  

The fundamental ability of bacteria to exchange genetic information has already been known since the 1950s. “In spite of intensive research, we have now first succeeded in determining the structure of the key responsible enzyme”, Zechner says in underlining the significance of this groundbreaking discovery. For the first time, decisive processes during the transfer of DNA can be explained. The discovery provides completely new information to enable researchers to potentially switch off relaxase and thus to slow down the spread of bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics. These findings could contribute to developing new substances suppressing the exchange of genes among bacteria.

Publication:
Aravindan Ilangovan, Christopher W.M. Kay, Sandro Roier, Hassane El Mkami, Enrico Salvadori, Ellen L. Zechner, Giulia Zanetti, Gabriel Waksman: ”Cryo-EM Structure of a Relaxase Reveals the Molecular Basis of DNA Unwinding during Bacterial Conjugation”, Cell (2017)

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