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Fruit Flies May Be the Next Answer to New Antibiotics

New findings from the University of Illinois Chicago suggest that a fruit fly peptide may help develop new antibiotics.

The new findings, published in Nature Chemical Biology, demonstrate that the insect is shielded from bacterial infections by the natural peptide known as drosocin, which binds to ribosomes in bacteria. Drosocin binds to the ribosome — where protein synthesis happens in a cell — and stops it from correctly fulfilling its primary purpose: producing new proteins that cells require to function.

The process by which DNA is decoded into protein molecules can be stopped by interfering with various translational stages. According to research from UIC, drosocin blocks translation termination when the ribosome reaches the stop signal at the end of the gene.

"Drosocin is only the second peptide antibiotic known to stop translation termination," says study author Alexander Mankin.

Apidaecin, a substance discovered in honeybees, was the other; it was initially identified by UIC researchers in 2017. Mankin and Nora Vázquez-Laslop, a UIC research professor in the College of Pharmacy, co-direct the UIC lab, which successfully produced the fruit fly peptide and hundreds of its variants in bacterial cells.

"This project was a result of an excellent collaboration of our team," states Vázquez-Laslop in the 2017 study.

They explain that they can now use their knowledge from the study to make new drugs that will kill bacteria using a similar action.

Markin continues that drosocin and the active mutants it produced inside the bacteria-induced bacterial cell suicide. Drosocin and apidaecin peptides function similarly. However, the researchers discovered that their chemical structures and modes of ribosome binding are distinct.

Markin concludes: "By understanding how these peptides work, we hope to leverage the same mechanism for potential new antibiotics. Comparing side-by-side the components of the two peptides facilitates engineering new antibiotics that take the best from each."


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