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Monday, September 11, 2006

Bacteria, Virus, Gene 

Folk and clinical lore have long prescribed cranberry juice for urinary tract infections, but until recently its mechanisms were largely unknown. Worcester Polytechnic Institute scientists have been working on the problem, and in work published this year and presented yesterday at ACS, suggest that proanthocyanidins, a type of tannin found in cranberry juice, causes fimbrial compression, and changes bacterial cell shape from rod to sphere, making it difficult for them to adhere to surfaces and survive to cause infections. This research is cool not only for the basic point - how cranberry juice may be effective - but also in that it points out possibilities for future study on other infectious bacteria.

Also affecting the surface of bacterial cells, Seattle researchers have found evidence that the peptide sequence of proteins dictated by DNA may not be what finally gets constructed: it seems that the proteosomes can alter this order to finalize functional proteins. This is really surprising news, and could potentially rock all kinds of boats in the scientific world.

In diseases not caused by bacteria, research suggests that the avian flu H5N1 may be so lethal because it reproduces much better than other strains. Patients who died from the disease had much higher viral loads (and thus inflammatory responses) than did patients with non-lethal flus. Interesting...

The gene that causes cystic fibrosis, a debilitating (and usually fatal) genetic disease, may persist in the population by protecting, in heterozygotes, from tuberculosis. The researchers suggest that CF patients are deficient in a protein that TB needs to survive, and that this resistance explains why such a toxic gene is not weeded out by natural selection.

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