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Bacterial tolerance is not just due to resistance, but also to the formation of persistent cells that have gone into a dormant state where they are no longer sensitive to antibiotics. On the molecular level, this process is controlled by a number of advanced cytotoxins produced by the bacteria themselves in order to survive. In Mycobacterium tuberculosis – the organism that causes tuberculosis – there are no fewer than 88 such toxins, all of which presumably help the organism to survive.
In a new article in the renowned journal Nature Communications, an international team of researchers with the participation of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University, has revealed the mechanism behind one of these toxins – VapC20. It turns out that when the toxin is activated, it destroys the tuberculosis bacteria’s own protein ‘factory’ (the ribosome) by cleavage. The bacteria are thereby unable to produce proteins in the short term, and thus avoid the effect of antibiotics that also often attack the ribosome.