Teardrop protein has jaws to chew up harmful bacteria

January 20th, 2012 - 6:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 20 (IANS) Lysozymes, antiseptic proteins in our teardrops, have jaws that latch on and chomp through rows of cell walls of harmful bugs like someone hungrily devouring an ear of corn.

“Those jaws chew apart the walls of the bacteria that are trying to get into your eyes and infect them,” said molecular biologist and chemistry professor at University of California Irvine Gregory Weiss, who co-led the project with associate professor of physics and astronomy Philip Collins.

The research could prove critical to long-term work aimed at diagnosing cancers and other illnesses in their very early stages, the journal Science reports.

The researchers decoded the protein’s behaviour by building one of the world’s smallest transistors — 25 times smaller than similar circuitry in laptop computers or smartphones.

Individual lysozymes were glued to the live wire and their eating activities were monitored, according to a University of California statement.

“Our circuits are molecule-sized microphones,” Collins said. “It’s just like a stethoscope listening to your heart, except we’re listening to a single molecule of protein.”

It took years for the university scientists to assemble the transistor and attach single-molecule teardrop proteins. The scientists hope the same novel technology can be used to detect cancerous molecules. It could take a decade to figure out but would be well worth it, said Weiss, who lost his father to lung cancer.

“If we can detect single molecules associated with cancer, then that means we’d be able to detect it very, very early,” Weiss said. “That would be very exciting because we know that if we treat cancer early, it will be much more successful, patients will be cured much faster, and costs will be much less.”

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