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Decoded -- how microbes make antibiotics

A study that appeared in the journal Nature reveals how antibiotic agents are synthesised naturally inside a cell. Antibiotics undergo some changes while inside the cell that give them the ability to act as powerful antibiotic agents. But, how the changes take place was a decade old mystery that researchers have finally solved. For the study, the team of researchers focused on a class of compounds that display properties of antibiotics. One of them is nisin, a natural occurring peptide in milk. This peptide is also synthesised in laboratory and is added to foods as a preservative. However, it undergoes modifications inside the cell after being synthesised, which confers it its main function. (Read: Antibiotics to treat gum disease)

According to Wilfred van der Donk, lead researcher along with biochemistry professor Satish K. Nair, peptides are a little bit like spaghetti that are too flexible to do their jobs. Inside the cell, some reactions, catalysed by specific enzymes, start putting knobs in, or starts making the peptide cyclical. For nisin, an enzyme called a dehydratase removes water to help give the antibiotic its final, three-dimensional shape. This is the first step in converting the spaghetti-like peptide into a five-ringed structure, the researchers noted. The rings are essential to nisin's antibiotic function: Two of them disrupt the construction of bacterial cell walls, while the other three punch holes in bacterial membranes. This dual action is very effective, making it difficult for microbes to evolve resistance to the antibiotic, the findings showed. 'It turns out that in nature, a fairly large number of natural products - many of them with therapeutic potential - are made in a similar fashion,' van der Donk concluded. (Read: When do you need antibiotics for cold and cough?)

'Peptides are a little bit like spaghetti; they are too flexible to do their jobs,' said, University of Illinois chemistry professor, Wilfred van der Donk, who led the research along with biochemistry professor Satish K. Nair. 'So what nature does is, it starts putting knobs in, or starts making the peptide cyclical,' van der Donk added. Special enzymes help in the task. For nisin, an enzyme called a dehydratase removes water to help give the antibiotic its final, three-dimensional shape. This is the first step in converting the spaghetti-like peptide into a five-ringed structure, the researchers noted. The rings are essential to nisin's antibiotic function: Two of them disrupt the construction of bacterial cell walls, while the other three punch holes in bacterial membranes. This dual action is very effective, making it difficult for microbes to evolve resistance to the antibiotic, the findings showed. 'It turns out that in nature, a fairly large number of natural products - many of them with therapeutic potential - are made in a similar fashion,' van der Donk concluded. This study has opened up new avenues of research into thousands of similar molecules, many of which are likely to be medically useful.

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What are antibiotics? Antibiotics are medications that are prescribed to treat bacterial infections. They either slow down the growth of the infectious organisms or kill them. An antibiotic s efficacy depends on various factors like host defense mechanism, the infection s location and properties of the antibiotic. Antibiotics can be administered orally, through injections or by topical application of creams and lotions. Oral antibiotics are prescribed to treat infections of the respiratory tract and digestive tract and urinary tract infections, etc. They are used in diseases to treat diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis. Topical antibiotics are prescribed for mild to moderate skin infection and acne. Once prescribed, it is important to complete the course of antibiotics as recommended by the doctor. Non-compliance to the course of antibiotics makes the disease causing bacteria resistant to those antibiotics, rendering them ineffective. This section will answer all your queries on antibiotics: for ex: when should you take antibiotics for cough and cold and are antibiotics against cough actually bad for you. Read more about Antibiotics types, side-effects, dosage and precautions

With inputs from IANS

Photo source: Getty images


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