Iowa State research team make discoveries in bacteria resistance

Nyajuok Deng

The ISU research team lead by Edward Yu may have found a key to figuring out the problem of bacterial resistance.

Yu, associate professor of physics and astronomy, and his research team identified the structure which allows bacteria to resist drugs.

Bacterial resistance is when a micro-organism is able to survive the exposure to antibiotics. For the past 60 years, antibiotics have played a critical role in the fight against diseases, although 70 percent of bacteria that cause infections are at least resistant to at least one of the drugs commonly used to treat it.

“We are trying to understand resistance in bacteria, the basic knowledge and structure,” Yu said.

The team found the exact structure of the protein of CusA — one of three parts of the pumps responsible for removing toxins in bacteria. The researchers then compared and identified the differences to understand the mechanism that removes heavy-metal toxins from cells.

This allows scientist to see how bacteria can resist certain types of toxins, and how to prevent drug residence.

The research is a stepping stone to the creation of new drugs to overcome the resistance of bacteria. The research done can “speed up the search” for the creation of new drugs, said Rober Jernigan, member of the research team and professor of biochemistry, biophysics and microbiology.

The research was published in the Thursday edition to the journal Nature. The research allows drug firms to use the findings to continue further research to find new drugs in the future.

“This is the beginning and basic knowledge to finding new ways to treat the problem,” Jernigan said.

The team has been working on the project for five years.

“This has been a long term thing,” Yu said. “We have been working on this here for about five years and the field has been studying this for about eight years.”

Chih-Chia Su, post-doctoral research associate of biochemistry, biophysics and microbiology, has been working on the project since he was a third-year student at Iowa State.

Hopefully this will “provide a resource for new drug designs in the future,” Su said.

The work done by Yu and his team may be a much needed stepping-stone in the research to stop bacterial resistance to antibiotics. This may ultimately help in curing a super-bug one day, Su said.