Ironed out

How the TB germ thrives

Published: Wednesday 15 March 2006

in a discovery that might help save millions of lives, scientists from the National Institute of Immunology, Delhi, have located five key genes that enable Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the tuberculosis germ, to soak up iron from its environment and thrive.

The research team, led by Rajesh S Gokhale, said some of these genes occur across several related bacterial families, and are potential targets for drugs to treat not only tuberculosis but other diseases as well. The findings were published in the online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on January 30, 2006.

M tuberculosis takes up residence in the human body in immune cells called macrophages. The bacteria require iron for essential functions, such as protein synthesis. To capture iron, the bacteria produce long-chain chemical compounds called siderophores. The genes Gokhale's team has identified are crucial to producing siderophores that rob the macrophages of their iron.

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