In the wake of May's European E. coli outbreak, microbiologists worldwide have sped up efforts to prevent a similar disaster from happening again. Among them, a team of collaborators from universities in the U.S. and Canada may be on the trail of a tiny protein that could render E. coli and other pathogens weak against our inherent defense: human digestion.
A new study published in July's edition of Microbiology focuses on a novel peptide -- a protein too small to merit the title. Known as wrwycr, it has proven to disrupt E. coli bacteria's natural ability to repair its DNA after damage from stomach acid.
Early lab tests show that after contact with this peptide, Shiga toxin-producing strains of E. coli die off in stomach acid faster than is necessary to enter human intestines, where they cause the medical complications associated with the toxin. Non-Shiga toxin producing E. coli suffer similar fates, but pose little concern in comparison.
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"A novel antimicrobial peptide significantly enhances acid-induced killing of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157 and non-O157 serotypes" (http://mic.sgmjournals.org/content/157/6/1768.short?rss=1)