Breakthrough in understanding of anthrax could aid countermeasures

A Danish chemist has recently claimed success in the search for the mechanism behind deadly infections caused by Gram-positive bacteria, such as anthrax, septicemia and meningitis.

Christian Marcus Pedersen, a synthetic chemist from the University of Copenhagen, has created a synthetic version of a gram-bacterial endotoxin that experts believe will pave the way for new and effective types of antibiotics, according to

"No one knew what substance Gram-positive bacteria released to make us sick," Professor Ulrich Zähringer, the head of the Leibnitz Center for Medicine and Bio-science in Borstel, Germany, said, reports. "But because Pedersen can supply us with substances that are entirely pure, and have a known structure and composition, we are able to get a more precise answer as to why we show symptoms when these bacteria enter our body."

Lipoteichoic acid, a substance created and present in the cell walls of gram-positive bacteria, appears to be behind the stimulation of human immune response symptoms, such as fever, inflammation and organ failure.

Scientists knew that it was critical to study the cell walls of the bacteria, because that is where the organisms bond to healthy human cells. But because lipoteichoic acid breaks down rapidly, researchers have, until now, been unable to understand its binding characteristics.

"Biologists have been trying to isolate this poison from living organisms for years. But the substance has a number of active groups,” Pederson said, reports. “That is to say, the spiked parts of the molecule which enable the entire molecule to bind to cells. This makes it extremely difficult to purify. And dirty molecules are not conducive to viable research.

“Therefore, it's a great advantage to fabricate the substance synthetically, because we can 'build' a molecule in which everything is included... Or where we ourselves decide which part of the structure to leave out."

The results of Pedersen’s research have been published in the journal Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry. Pederson is currently seeking greater funding in order to continue his work.