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Big, bad bacterium is an 'iron pirate'

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Life inside the human body sometimes looks like life on the high seas in the 1600s, when pirates hijacked foreign vessels in search of precious metals.

For Neisseria bacteria, which can cause gonorrhea and meningitis, the booty is not gold or silver but plain old iron.

Until recently, scientists did not understand how these bacteria snatch iron from healthy human cells, where a protein called transferrin binds the metal in a molecular bear-hug. However, a new study led by scientists at the National Institutes of Health in collaboration with biophysicist James Gumbart at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory has demonstrated the likely process by which the bacteria steal the biologically valuable metal.

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