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- 02/14/2023

Novel Chemical Tool to Study Bacteria During Infection

Chimica Oggi-Chemistry Today


Figure credits: Pixabay


A team of researchers, led by Professor Xiang David Li from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), has developed a novel chemical tool to study how bacteria adapt to and control host cells in real-time during an infection. This research can be used to better understand the interaction between bacteria and the host, which is crucial for developing new drugs and therapies.


When bacteria infect their host, they release virulence factor proteins that “hijack” important protein players of the host to create chaos. However, identifying these proteins in the host’s “crowded streets” can be challenging. To address this issue, Professor Li’s team designed a multifunctional unnatural amino acid called photo-ANA that only labels proteins of the engineered bacteria, not the host. Photo-ANA can also conjugate with fluorescence or biotin via a Nobel prize-winning chemical reaction, which allows for the visualization and enrichment of labeled bacterial proteins from the complex host environment. Moreover, photo-ANA carries a diazirine group that can “handcuff” the bacterial virulence proteins to their host target proteins upon exposure to UV light.


Using photo-ANA, Professor Li’s group comprehensively profiled the adaptation of Salmonella to the host environment and revealed the extensive interplay between the pathogen and the host during different infection stages, which identified known interactions and some newly discovered interactions. The photo-ANA-based approach can be applied to other pathogenic bacteria and even other pathogens such as fungi.


The research findings were published in the international scientific journal Nature Chemical Biology.


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