Bacteria that cause tuberculosis, leprosy, and other diseases, survive by switching between two different types of metabolism. EPFL(Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) scientists have now discovered that this switch is controlled by a mechanism that constantly adapts to meet the bacterium's survival needs, like a home's thermostat reacting to changes in temperature. Mycobacteria are a category of pathogenic bacteria that causes tuberculosis, leprosy, and various infections that harm people with compromised immune systems, e.g., AIDS patients. When in the human body, mycobacteria produce energy by metabolizing fats through a "cycle" of biochemical reactions. Along the way, the cycle also produces a molecule that the bacterium can take away to use elsewhere, thus stopping the energy-producing cycle. EPFL scientists have now found that mycobacteria can switch between these two routes by using a "volume control" mechanism that improves their survival. The findings, published online on August 24, 2016 in Nature Communications, could prove critical for developing new treatments. The open-access article is titled” A Rheostat Mechanism Governs the Bifurcation of Carbon Flux in Mycobacteria.” The molecule in question is called isocitrate, which, once produced, can go in two directions: continue the energy production cycle or be taken away to synthesize other parts of the bacterium. But if isocitrate goes the biosynthesis route, it must be replenished or else the energy-producing cycle will stop. Devastating though it sounds, this does present an excellent target for killing off an infecting mycobacterium.
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