Microbiology researchers at The University of Southern Mississippi have identified a gene that affects the formation of biofilm, the protective barrier that allows staph bacteria to resist antibiotic treatment.
This recent finding, published in the December 2008 issue of BMC Microbiology, contributes a piece to the complex puzzle on how Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria thrives and becomes resistant to some of the medical community’s most aggressive antibiotics.
The msa gene plays a role by encouraging the growth of biofilm to protect the staph bacteria from antibiotics.
"We found that by completely removing the msa gene, less biofilm forms," said microbiology professor Dr. Mohamed Elasri, who discovered and tested the gene with doctoral student Antony Schwartz of Madison; and Southern Miss alumni Dr. Vijayaraj Nagarajan of India, researcher for the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Karthik Sambanthamoorthy of India, researcher for the Allegheny Singer Research Institute in Pittsburg, Pa.
"We believe the msa gene controls SarA, a regulator that is critical to the disease process staph infections," Elasri said.
Invasive MRSA infections occur in approximately 94,000 persons each year and are associated with approximately 19,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most staph infections are protected with a layer of biofilm, a slimy substance of living microorganisms that are also responsible for plaque formation on teeth and can form on just about any surface from contact lenses to swimming pools.
The msa gene is just one of many found that controls biofilm formation in humans, according to Elasri. However, its discovery means that scientists are one step closer in finding effective treatments against staph infections.
"Currently, it is very difficult for antibiotics to get through biofilm to treat staph," Schwartz said. "By narrowing it down to this gene, down the line, medicines can be developed to block its formation by targeting the msa protein."
Microbiology researchers at The University of Southern Mississippi have identified the msa gene that affects the formation of biofilm, a protective barrier that allows staph bacteria to resist antibiotic treatment. Testing included the observation on how biofilm is affected when the msa gene is removed. This photo illustrates the formation of biofilm (top), a decrease in biofilm through removal of the msa gene (middle), and an increase of biofilm through artificial reintroduction of the msa gene. (Submitted Photo)
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The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.