Carbon monoxide is an infamous and silent killer that can cause death in minutes. But while it is deadly for us, some microorganisms actually thrive on it, by using this gas as an energy source. Associate Professor Chris Greening and his team of microbiologists from the School of Biological Sciences, Monash University in Australia have discovered that some pathogens depend on carbon monoxide to survive when other nutrients are not available. The research focused on mycobacteria, a bacterial group that causes killer diseases such as tuberculosis (TB), leprosy, and Buruli ulcer. During infection, these microbes are in a hostile environment with very few nutrients to go around, meaning that anything they can do to get extra energy can be hugely advantageous. "When microbial cells are starved of their preferred energy sources, one way they subsist is by scavenging gases such as carbon monoxide," said Monash PhD student Paul Cordero, the co-lead author of the study. "They breakdown this gas into its fundamental components, which provide the cells just enough energy to persist." The researchers showed that an enzyme called carbon monoxide dehydrogenase is what allows mycobacteria to obtain energy from this gas. While the energy gained is not enough to allow for growth, the researchers found that carbon monoxide consumption allowed mycobacteria to survive for longer periods of time. The study was published online on July 29,2019 in the ISME Journal. The open-access article is titled “Atmospheric Carbon Monoxide Oxidation Is a Widespread Mechanism Supporting Microbial Survival.” The group's findings suggest that Mycobacterium tuberculosis might be able to survive inside the human host by using carbon monoxide. Present in humans since ancient times, TB remains a major global health burden.
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