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Scientists defuse the 'Vietnam time bomb'

A key mechanism by which a bacterial pathogen causes the deadly tropical disease melioidosis has been discovered by an international team of scientists.

The findings are published today in the journal Science and show how a toxin produced by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei kills cells by preventing protein synthesis. The study, led by the University of Sheffield, paves the way for the development of novel therapies to combat the bacterium which infects millions of people across South East Asia and Northern Australia.

Using intense X-rays at Diamond Light Source, the UK's national synchrotron facility, and at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, the research team solved the structure of a protein from Burkholderia, the function of which was initially unknown.

"The information gathered from the structure suggested that the protein was a previously unsuspected toxin and sparked a search for its mode of action. This eventually led to the discovery of how it prevents human cells from making proteins and helped us to understand how it causes cell death," says research lead Professor David Rice from the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Sheffield.

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