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Researchers want to harness bacteria-produced tailocins for science

Researchers led by a team at the Berkeley Lab want to harness nanomachines produced by bacteria to help fight bad cells within the human body. Nanomachines are called tailokines and are described as strong protein nanomachines made by bacteria. The researchers say they look like phages, but do not have a capsid, which is the head of the phage that contains the viral DNA and the replication mechanism.

Researcher Vivek Mutalik, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, studies tailokines and phages and says that they are like spring-loaded needles that stay in a target cell and appear to poke all the way through the cell membrane, creating a hole in the cytoplasm that leads the loss of cell ions and contents and eventually the collapse of the cell. A variety of bacteria can produce tailocins under stressful conditions.

Tailocins are lethal only to specific strains of bacteria, which has led them to earn the nickname “bacterial guided missiles”. Tailocins appear to be a tool used by bacteria to compete with rivals. They are similar enough to phages that scientists believe that tailokines evolved from DNA originally inserted into bacterial genomes during viral infections.

Interestingly, bacteria are killed if they produce tailokines, just as they would be if they were infected with a phage virus. The death of the bacteria happens because the pointed nanomachines emerge from the membrane to leave the producing cell, as well as the replicated viral particles. Once released, tailokines target certain strains while sparing other cells. Currently, scientists do not understand how the phenomenon occurs in nature.

Researchers also do not understand how the pin stab needle plunger works. There are many potential uses for tailors, so research in the field is ongoing. Scientists think that someday tailokins could be useful as an alternative to traditional antibiotics. Research is also being conducted to harness tailors to improve the study of microbiomes.

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