Could the cure for parasitic infections that affect billions of people worldwide possibly be found in...of all places, dirt?
Scientists believe it just may be possible. Bt protein is a natural pesticide produced by certain bacteria in soil. It's toxic to insects and widely used as an alternative to chemical pesticides. Because the mechanism the toxin uses to enter insect cells is not fully understood, it's hard to develop strategies to prevent bugs from becoming resistant to it.
Recently, Raffi Aroian, a researcher at UC, San Diego, discovered the first step Bt protein takes to enter the target cells in the insects it kills. Apparently, crystal proteins from Bt bind to sugar molecules present on the surface of insect cells. This knowledge will be useful in figuring out how to block insect resistance to the toxin. It turns out that roundworms are also susceptible to the effects of Bt, but people are not. That means Bt might just be a promising cure for parasitic roundworm infections. Aroian speaks highly of its potential...
Aroian: "This bacterium has provided a tremendous natural resource that's being used all round the world. The mechanisms by which it acts are fascinating and reveal important insights as to how the crystal protein made by the bacterium works and why it's effective against certain organisms, like roundworms and insects and not others, like humans."
Bt just might make it a lot more difficult for these roundworms to get... around. I'm Eric Phillips.
"Imagine That!" covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at www.nsf.gov.