Scientists in Barcelona announced Friday a novel technique to identify and classify proteins present in bacteria that could pave the way to developing new antibiotics capable of overcoming bacterial resistance.
The team, led by Luis Serrano and Maria Lluch-Senar of the Genomic Regulation Center (CRG), published their findings in the journal Molecular Systems Biology.
Until now, researchers have lacked an effective method to detect all the small proteins present in any given organism and understand their function. They knew only that those proteins were numerous and somehow related to the immune system, Lluch-Senar told EFE.
Recent studies have shed light on the importance of these small proteins, such as the antimicrobial peptides secreted by insects, animals, plants and even human beings in response to infection. These small proteins are also able to communicate with other bacteria in the environment and with the host.
This discovery could open the way to a whole new generation of antibiotics capable of overcoming the increasing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics.
The World Health Organization has described the alarming rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria as "one of the greatest menaces to world health, food security, and global development, which can affect any person regardless of their age and country."
"With this new bioinformatics tool we have developed we can detect every single small protein present in bacteria, which could be extrapolated to humans in order to discover some proteins which we have probably overlooked," Lluch-Senar said.
The lead author of the study, CRG doctoral candidate Samuel Miravet-Verde, said: "The interest of our study is focused on ascertaining the number and variety of functions these hitherto disregarded proteins could present."
Studying the Mycoplasma pneumoniae bacteria (known to cause pneumonia), the team discovered that 10 of every 100 proteins coded in the genome went undetected previously because they were so small.
The CRG team concluded that small proteins could account for at least 16 percent of the bacterial genome of all live organisms.
The scientists are confident that if they can apply this bioinformatics technique to humans, they will uncover the existence and expression of many of still-to-be-undiscovered small proteins.
Once their function is known, it will be possible to determine which of these molecules could prove suitable as antibiotics.
The researchers looked at 109 different bacterial genomes. Applying known algorithms already used in other research, they input parameters related to the nature of a protein.
They later validated their findings by using proteins already identified in other bacterial species.
The technique they have developed is universal and may be applied to different bacterial species.