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How microbes survive change

25 Nov, 2010

A new mechanism of metabolic regulation in microbes has been discovered by a team at the University of Waikato.

Listen to audio: How microbes survive change

Duration: 15:39

Microbes survive extreme environments

Researchers in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Waikato have found a new mechanism of metabolic regulation in microbes that allows bacteria to survive dramatic changes in their environment.

Many microbes, including pathogens, have to adapt to frequent changes in conditions. For example, once Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the pathogen that causes tuberculosis) enters the human body, it is attacked by the immune system. However, it manages to survive, often lying dormant for long periods, in the acidic and oxygenised conditions within a type of immune cell called a macrophage.

Reducing metabolism increases microbe survival

As part of her PhD project with Vic Arcus, Jo McKenzie used a non pathogenic close relative of M. tuberculosis to study microbe survival. She found a protein that cleaves and degrades mRNA, stopping other proteins from being produced, and down-regulating metabolic pathways. This allows bacteria to tune their growth to suit the conditions.

The mRNA-degrading proteins are found in half of all bacteria and archaea, and the team proposes that mRNA regulation is widespread and may have enabled some previously harmless microbes to become pathogenic.

Programme details: Our Changing World


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