Czechs make breakthrough discovery in bacteria DNA

The microscopic photo of an enzyme that can change the DNA in bacteria, photo: CTK

Czech scientists have made a breakthrough discovery, one that research teams all over the world have been striving for for years. Scientists from the University of South Bohemia have detected the structure of an enzyme that can change the DNA in bacteria. The discovery should in time prevent bacteria from being resistant to antibiotics. Ruth Fraňková spoke to Ruediger Ettrich, the head of the Centre of protein structure and function and one of the people behind the discovery:

A microscopic photo of the enzyme that can change the DNA in bacteria,  photo: CTK
“You might know that bacteria very quickly adapt to a changing environment. They do this by changing their genetic information, their DNA. There are several mechanisms how to do that. One is mutation of a few parts of the genetic information, but they are also able to integrate DNA from foreign organism into their own DNA. And with that they can adapt to their environment.”

What exactly have you discovered?

Photo: CTK
“What we discovered now is one of the machines that are able to manipulate the genetic information. Of course this machine was known before, but scientists got to a certain point where they were not able to make further progress. The most important part of this machine is a motor that is able to slide over the DNA and to pull the DNA into a small nano-machine made of proteins. We were able to resolve the structure on an atomic level and describe the mechanism which makes the whole machine work.”

How can your discovery be used in practice?

Photo: CTK
“Of course this is basic science. And our discovery opens the door to further basic science. The understanding how bacteria manipulate DNA and how certain mechanisms work can lead to the discovery of new medical applications. You know that one of the big problems of the changing of DNA in bacteria is that they can get a certain resistance against antibiotics. Our discovery might give new impulses for research in that field.”

How did the scientific world react to your discovery?

“The news spread quite quickly around and as a result I was invited to a conference of the Protein Society which is the world’s largest organisation of protein chemists to give a talk at the annual meeting in San Diego, California and present our findings to the scientific and academic world.”