Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Alpine Bacteria discovery may lead to new drugs

A rock growing bacteria found solely in the Swiss Alps has lead to greater understanding of alcohol’s relation to brain proteins. This information could give us a better understanding of our relationship with drugs and alcohol. 

This is a significant development and may pave the way for drugs that would work by disrupting the link between the brain and alcohol.

Texas researchers have sequenced the genome of this special type of bacteria. In doing so, a particular protein sequence has been found that shares remarkably similar properties to a specific element of the human brain.

This exciting discovery is remarkable partly due to the difficulties inherent in such a specific scientific task. Adron Harris of the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction within the University of Texas elaborates: “For many of us in the alcohol field, this has been a Holy Grail, actually finding a binding site for alcohol on the brain proteins and showing it with X-ray crystallography, but it hasn't been possible because it is not possible to get a nice crystal.”

The specific moment of triumph came through collaboration from the Texas based researchers and French scientists from the Pasteur Institute. The protein found that was so similar in nature to part of our human brains was altered to make it sensitive to ethanol. This allowed comparison of the original bacteria and the newly altered version to test if alcohol would bind to the bacteria.

“This is something you never would have found with any sort of logical approach” States Harris “You never would have guessed that this obscure bacterium would have something that looks like a brain protein in it. But the institute, because of Pasteur’s fascination with bacteria, has this huge collection of obscure bacteria, and over the last few years they've been sequencing the genomes, keeping an eye out for interesting properties.”

Through further research and testing on mice, the long-term aim of this specific research is the creation and production of drugs that could help lower alcohol consumption or halt it entirely. Through greater understanding of how alcohol interacts with the brain through the rewarding, positive effects as much as the negative, as well as research projects such as these, tailor made drugs could allow enormous numbers of people struggling with alcohol addiction increased odds of recovery.