New discovery may protect against broad spectrum of dieases

Kenneth Keiler, an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State, recently led a team to a discovery that targets and prevents bacteria from replicating in the body, thus preventing disease.

The team isolated a process called "trans-translation," which is the process by which bacteria replicates itself. The team found a way to block the bacterium's synthesis machinery using RNA, halting the replication process of the bacteria. This approach could lead to new treatment methods for anthrax, tuberculois, shigellosis and other bacterial diseases.

Since Keiler discovered the trans-translation process in 1996, he has been hard at work to find a molecule capable of halting the process, which only occurs in bacteria, not in humans or plants.

"Our team tested about 663,000 different molecules against a strain of E. coli bacteria and monitored how they were affecting its trans-translation process," Keiler said.

The team reviewed these molecules using a high-throughput screening method, which looks at thousands of molecules at once in the hopes of finding a couple which can combat pathogens successfully. At the end of the testing, the team found 46 different molecules that held potential for disrupting the trans-translation process.

"Of the 46 molecules that were shown to affect trans-translation, one called KKL-35 jumped out as the most promising," Keiler said. "We found that the KKL-35 molecule inhibits the growth of very distantly related bacteria, and this suggests that it may have antibiotic activity against a very broad spectrum of species."

The KKL-35 molecule was proven to be 100 times more effective against the bacterium which causes tuberculosis. The molecule is also highly unlikely to allow for bacterial mutation and resistance. Further research is required, but the potential for this discovery to protect against a broad spectrum of diseases is present.