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Researchers to reveal TB’s metabolic secrets

New study could revolutionise future treatments for tuberculosis, by unravelling the role nitrogen plays in the bacteria’s growth.

AFP stain showing Microbacterium tuberculosis

Drug resistance is an increasing problem in the fight against tuberculosis, a disease which kills more than one million people per year.

Thanks to a £846,000 grant from the BBSRC, world-leading infectious diseases experts from the University of Surrey are searching for new ways to destroy the bacteria through disrupting or removing its source of ‘food’.

Building on previous research that revealed what the TB bacterium feeds on, the team, including project leader Professor Johnjoe McFaddenDr Dany Beste and Professor Andrzej Kierzek, aim to learn more about its metabolism of nitrogen, applying the method developed to identify its metabolism of carbon.

Using a technique called metabolic flux analysis, researchers aim to work out where TB gets its nitrogen from and how it uses it to grow.

Professor McFadden said, “We don’t know which molecules are storing nitrogen, but we have a number of candidates.  Once we know this, we could identify ways to starve the bacillus of nitrogen, which could help us to kill it faster.”

Professor McFadden and his colleagues were the first to develop an in silico metabolic model of the TB bacillus in 2007. The data from the nitrogen study will be added to the model, to provide a more accurate simulation of the metabolism of the TB bacillus than ever before.

Professor McFadden added, “The virtual TB cell allows us to conduct in nanoseconds experiments that would take months in the lab. This not only saves time and money – if it helps us to develop effective drug targets, it could help save lives.”

Read more about Surrey’s tuberculosis research and discover our programmes in the field of Biosciences and Medicine.

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