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Ice-cold methods decode bacterial infection systems

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When attacking body cells, bacteria, such as salmonellae or Yersinia (plague pathogens), inject specific bacterial proteins through hollow, syringe-like structures – called injectisomes – into the host cells. These substances reprogram the cells and can thus overcome their defense. From then on, they can infiltrate the cells unhindered in large numbers, and trigger diseases such as typhus, plague, or cholera.

Until now it had not yet been clear how these substances pass through the infection mechanism before overcoming the body cells' defense and paving the way for infiltration with bacteria.

In his earlier works, Thomas Marlovits, professor of structure and systems biology and former group leader at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) and at the Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna, was able to unravel the structure of the injectisome, called the Type three secretion system (T3SS), to the near-atomic level with the help of cryo-electron microscopy. Now, for the first time, the researchers have been able to reveal the entire transport path through the infection channel in salmonellae and visualized the structural re-organization of bacterial toxins while they are transported.

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