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20 February, 2020 - 22:45 By Tony Quested

Quadram Institute and UEA unveil new weapon to fight household germs

Scientists from the Quadram Institute and University of East Anglia on the Norwich Research Park have developed a new platform technology to study how bacteria survive and grow following exposure to a range of challenging or stress-inducing conditions.

The work in collaboration with colleagues from University of Technology in Sydney was used to identify previously unidentified bacterial genes implicated in resistance and sensitivity to the household antimicrobial triclosan.

Triclosan is used extensively in household products such as soaps, mouthwashes, shampoos, cosmetics and toothpastes. 

A new study, published in the journal Genome Research, deploys this new platform technology to understand how bacteria resist or become more sensitive to exposure to the compound.

Called ‘TraDIS-Xpress’, the new approach builds on the established TraDIS method (Transposon-Directed Insertion-site Sequencing). The platform technology has numerous applications and importantly can be used in the race to find new antimicrobial agents by identifying how drugs like antibiotics act against bacteria. 

It can also be used to help develop better probiotic bacteria for health promotion, or to understand how to re-engineer bacteria for industrial applications. The study was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

In recent years, modern DNA sequencing technology has enabled scientists to identify all the genes in any given bacteria. Despite this increase in knowledge, the function of many of these genes is still poorly understood, particularly with respect to their role in microbial viability. 

To address this challenge, the Quadram team led by director, Professor Ian Charles and Dr Mark Webber, have developed the new ‘TraDIS-Xpress’ platform.

TraDIS-Xpress works by simultaneously assaying all the genes in a target organism by combining two fundamental approaches used in bacterial genetics, mutation and gene expression. 

It then tests the resulting impact of these alterations on survival and growth of the candidate organism. The method introduces small pieces of DNA called transposons into bacterial cells. 

These also contain a ‘promoter’ and will simultaneously disrupt target gene’s function (mutation) or change how much of a target is produced (expression). The approach can be applied to a wide range of bacteria and used to understand how they are able to survive and grow in any condition of interest.

Professor Charles and Dr Webber said: “We now have a tool which can efficiently assay all the genes in a genome for roles in any given stress situation. 

“Our work on triclosan shows that this platform will help us understand how bacteria work and we hope to use this approach to address important problems such as the fight against antimicrobial resistance and how to produce better ‘good bacteria’ to help protect our health.”

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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