As if going into hiding, some bacteria evade antibiotics by turning off metabolic activity, according to new research by professors Rebecca Page and Wolfgang Peti, graduate student Breann Brown, and colleagues at Texas A&M University, led by chemical engineer Thomas Wood. Under attack from medicines, the bacteria will stage a strategic retreat of sorts, lowering their guard of “antitoxin” proteins and letting competing “toxin” proteins render them inert. “It was the combination of the genetic studies at Texas A&M with our structural studies at Brown University that demonstrated that the proteins MqsR:MqsA form an entirely new family of toxin:antitoxin systems,” Page said. “Remarkably, we have shown this system not only controls its own genes, but also many other genes in E. coli, including the gene that controls the response to oxidative stress.” Last fall the team implicated the MqsR:MqsA complex in the formation of tough-to-treat biofilms.

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