The research carried out as a joint effort at the National Synchrotron Radiation Centre SOLARIS, Małopolska Centre of Biotechnology and the British National Electron Bioimaging Center eBIC (Diamond Light Source) allowed to solve the structure of the protein responsible for introducing compounds necessary for the life of bacterial cells. The exceptional importance of the research was honoured by publishing an image by Alina Kurokhtina on the cover of Science Advances.
Bacterial species are under continuous warfare with each other for access to nutrients. To gain an advantage in this struggle, they produce antibacterial compounds that target and kill their competitors. Different species of bacteria, including the ones that live inside us, can battle each other for scarce resources using a variety of tactics. Now, researchers from the laboratories of Prof. Jonathan Heddle from JU Małopolska Centre of Biotechnology and Dr Konstantinos Beis from the Imperial College London have uncovered the mechanism of one such tactic that may eventually lead to the development of new antibacterial measures.
The team’s work focused on a protein called SbmA. In some bacteria this protein acts as an active gateway through the inner membrane of the cell, guarding the entrance to the cell interior. Bacteria use SbmA to ‘pump’ much needed peptides into the cell where they can be used to make vital proteins. However, it can also be an Achilles heel: other bacteria can ‘hijack’ SbmA by providing it with peptides that are toxic. When SbmA pumps in these poisons, the cell dies. The deviousness of this approach exploits the fact that SbmA seems able to pump in a wide variety of different peptides, but exactly how it achieves this was unknown.
To gain more information on how SbmA works, the team, including lead authors Dmitry Ghilarov, Satomi Inaba-Inoue and Piotr Stępień, determined the structure of SbmA using cryo-electron microscopy at the Polish national cryo-EM facility (SOLARIS) and the UK’s national electron bio-imaging centre eBIC (Diamond Light Source).
The results, published in Science Advances, revealed a novel membrane protein fold, combining the features of ATP-powered and proton-powered transporters named SLiPT (‘SbmA-like peptide transporters’).
Read the full paper in Science Advances: Molecular mechanism of SbmA, a promiscuous transporter exploited by antimicrobial peptides’, available here: https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abj5363
Image credit: Alina Kurokthina
Source: SOLARIS website