UCSB Professor Wins Bacteria-Killing Grant

Microbial Geneticist David Low Receives Award to Pinpoint BamA Protein

The heart may be the seat of human emotion, but that feeling is likely to be one of unhappiness if the gut is dissatisfied. Finding a solution to what troubles the infant gut is one of the Grand Challenges identified by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and UCSB’s David Low has won a grant to research a bacteria-killer to which bacteria might not so readily develop resistance.

Grand Challenges Explorations funds “high-risk, high-reward” proposals out of an impatience to get to results. Low, a microbial geneticist, has received the $100,000 grant to initiate work on a bacteriophage — a bacterial virus — that will bind to a specific protein on the surface of E. coli and Shigella, called BamA protein, that the bacteria need to survive. It is that survival requirement that Low expects will make it unlikely the bacteria will mutate to cause resistance. Also, bacteriophage that targets specific bacteria may avoid the problems that result from antibiotics that kill all gut flora, good and bad.

“We are engineering phage to bind to proteins on the surface of bacterial targets that are essential for life,” Low told UCSB’s The Current. “This includes the protein BamA, which is required for assembly of many of the proteins in the outer part of bacteria. Using this strategy, we are hopeful that resistance will be minimized and that a concoction of phage that attacks essential bacterial proteins will prove effective in treating bacterial infections.”

World-over, but especially in developing countries, infants and children with chronic E. coli or Shigella infection can develop long-term health issues like stunted growth, cognitive impairment, and a lack of response to oral vaccines, which can affect their adult lives, states the website. The foundation’s grants for health research — successful projects can receive up to $1 million in follow-on funding — also seek external solutions like sanitation, nutrition, and engaging communities.

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