Unravelling The Secrets Of A Sneaky Protein
First Published: Investigator - December 2009
Flinders researchers are unravelling the secrets of a tricky protein in their efforts to quash drug resistance in hospital strains of ‘golden staph’.
They hope that by learning more about the physiology of the protein – known as QacA – they can learn how to overcome its drug resistance.
However, the research team concedes the sneaky nature of the protein is making their task a challenge.
‘It’s a very adaptable protein that sits on the outer surface of a cell and can recognise more than 30 chemical compounds – including antiseptics and disinfectants commonly used in hospitals,’ Dr Melissa Brown, Associate Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Flinders University said.
‘Once it recognises a chemical it sets to work pumping it out of the cell before the chemical reaches its target.’ She said its very inventiveness was probably one of the secrets behinds its success.
Staphylococcus aureus, often referred to as golden staph, is a common bacterium that lives on the skin or in the nose of human beings.
In most situations it is harmless, however if it enters the body through a cut in the skin it can cause infection and even death in extreme cases.
While most infections caused by golden staph are treatable with antibiotics, often a few bacteria will survive a course of antibiotics, perhaps due to gene mutation or obtaining genetic information from other surrounding antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The resulting antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that remain then flourish, since they no longer have to compete for resources with the rest of the colony.
Hospital patients with surgical or other wounds are particularly susceptible to golden staph and can become seriously ill if their golden staph infection resists treatment from antibiotics.
Dr Brown said the ultimate aim of her team’s National Health and Medical Research Council funded study was to learn enough about drug pumps like QacA so that pharmaceutical scientists could design new drugs to combat it.
‘The more basic science you have about the physiology of a bacteria the more likely you are to learn how to overcome them,’ Dr Brown said.