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K-State Today

February 18, 2022

K-State team engineers fluorescent sensors that detect metabolites of infectious bacteria

Submitted by College of Arts and Sciences

By attaching fluorescent dyes to bacterial and human proteins, a Kansas State University team created a library of 20 fluorescent sensors that detect molecules produced by dangerous infectious bacteria.

The researchers, in the biochemistry and molecular biophysics department at K-State, used the sensors to study iron uptake by virulent "ESKAPE" pathogens, which are named in part from their ability to escape commonly used antibiotics. Consequently, ESKAPE bacteria cause antibiotic-resistant infections that are difficult to eliminate. Iron uptake is required for bacterial pathogenesis, and the fluorescent sensors enable studies of how bacteria acquire iron, and how new antibiotics may combat pathogenic microorganisms.

The creation of a broad panel of sensors that recognize clinically important metabolites is valuable for both basic research and antibiotic discovery. The studies were recently published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry: "Fluorescent Sensors of Siderophores produced by Bacterial Pathogens," which was selected as an editor's recommended read by the journal.

These efforts were led by University Distinguished Professor Phillip E. Klebba and Research Professor Salete M. Newton. Other authors of the paper are Kansas State University researchers Ashish Kumar, Taihao Yang, and former K-State researchers Aritri Majumdar, Somnath Chakravorty and Brittany L. Nairn.

Potential applications of this research include identification of infectious bacteria in clinical samples, detection of bacterial contamination of foods, and study of bacterial physiology, such as resistance to antibiotics.

"The breadth of this sensor panel allows many new ways to detect and study bacterial pathogens," Klebba said. "These sensors will also facilitate the discovery of chemicals that inhibit bacterial membrane transport that may constitute new antibiotics."

To learn more about the biochemistry and molecular biophysics department, visit its website.