Understanding Bacteria Will Help Combat Disease
Streptomyces are members of a bacterial family that produce a large number of medicinally useful drugs, including two-thirds of all known antibiotics and many cancer-fighting agents. They are also structurally complex and undergo a variety of physical transformations throughout their life cycle. Although completely harmless themselves, Streptomyces are closely related to the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and leprosy (called Mycobacteria).
McMaster microbiologist Dr. Marie Elliot is examining different aspects of regulation and development in Streptomyces coelicolor, the most-studied member of this family of bacteria. An understanding of regulation and development is essential for the manipulation of the growth of Streptomyces in order to maximize the production of compounds having medicinal significance as well as to shed light on possible ways of combating their disease-causing relatives.
One aspect of Elliot's research centres on a new class of regulators in S. coelicolor. Bacterial cells, like cells from all other organisms (including humans), have long been thought to use protein to control everything going on inside of them. Now, however, it appears that another molecule may play a major role in regulating intracellular activity: small RNAs. For this reason, Elliot is examining the role played by the RNAs in controlling development and antibiotic production in S. coelicolor.
In a separate line of research, Elliot is focusing on a family of proteins that are essential for development in S. coelicolor. These proteins have unusual characteristics and appear to assemble to form amyloid-like fibres. "Amyloid fibres" are proteins that have assembled incorrectly into a specific structure and are typically associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Elliot's wants to understand how the proteins in Streptomyces assemble to form these fibres and discover how the fibres interact with other proteins that are important for development. Her research in amyloid-fibre formation could be used to help develop treatments for the debilitating amyloid-based diseases in humans.