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Spread of antibiotic resistance understood by unravelling bacterial secretion system

The system that allows the sharing of genetic material between bacteria – and therefore the spread of antibiotic resistance – has been uncovered by a team of scientists at Birkbeck, University of London and UCL.

The study, published today in Nature, reveals the mechanism of bacterial type IV secretion, which bacteria use to move substances across their cell wall. As type IV secretion can distribute genetic material between bacteria, notably antibiotic resistance genes, the mechanism is directly responsible for the spread of antibiotic resistance in hospital settings. It also plays a crucial role in secreting toxins in infections - causing ulcers, whooping cough, or severe forms of pneumonia such as Legionnaires' disease.

The work, led by Professor Waksman at the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology (a joint Birkbeck/UCL Institute) and funded by the Wellcome Trust, revealed that the type IV secretion system differs substantially from other bacterial secretion systems, in both its molecular structure and the mechanism for secretion.

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