Controlling bacteria at its roots

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: July 5th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The terms Nus-G [nuss-G] and R-F-A-H probably sound like little more than alphabet mumbo jumbo to most folks. But scientists say these molecules might be the keys to survival for disease-causing bacteria like E. coli.

Nus-G and R-F-A-H help regulate growth and determine how effectively bacteria can infect a host. Understanding how bacteria grow and ward off immune system attacks could lead to drugs that keep infections at bay.

In the molecular world, Nus-G and R-F-A-H act like light switches. They latch on to a cell’s DNA and turn genes on or off. Found in all bacteria, Nus-G regulates about ninety-seven percent of a bacterium’s genetic code. Without it, bacteria would die. Scientists recently discovered that R-F-A-H oversees the remaining three percent of the genome. Its sole purpose? To make bacteria infectious.

Once triggered, R-F-A-H allows bacteria to infect a host, arming them with enough power to resist the immune system’s defenses.

It’s a delicate balancing act. Too little R-F-A-H and the bacteria grow slowly and cannot spread; too much and they die. Scientists describe this precarious arrangement as a genius mechanism to ensure bacteria survive.

Researchers hope to capitalize on this newfound knowledge on how bacteria regulate their DNA. If they can find chemicals that halt R-F-A-H in its quest to invade, they can develop drugs to fight bacterial infections such as E. coli and cholera.

Who knows? Maybe this alphabet mumbo jumbo will ultimately spell the end for bad bacteria.