Scientists Discover Protein Protecting Against Chlorine

Chlorine is a common disinfectant that is used to kill bacteria, for example, in swimming pools and drinking water supplies. Our immune system also produces chlorine, which causes proteins in bacteria to lose their natural folding. These unfolded proteins then begin to clump and lose their function. Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum (RUB) researchers in Germany, headed by Professor Dr. Lars Leichert, have discovered a protein (RidA) in the intestinal bacterium E. coli that protects bacteria from chlorine. In the presence of chlorine, this newly discovered protein tightly bonds with other proteins, thus preventing them from coagulating. Once the danger has passed, this protein releases the bound proteins and they can continue to work as usual. The researchers reported their findings online on December 17, 2014 in an open-access article in Nature Communications. The scientists look into oxidative stress, which affects cells when they encounter so-called “reactive oxygen species” (ROS), chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen. Oxidative stress plays a role during cell aging and in immune defense. By producing reactive oxygen species, immune cells subject bacteria to oxidative stress. But what happens inside those bacteria, and more specifically, what happens to their proteins? The researchers sought to answer this question by looking for proteins that change due to oxidative stress. This is how they discovered the protein RidA.
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