The Mineral That Kills Strep



Australian researchers have found that a common mineral can starve one of the world’s most deadly bacteria by preventing its uptake of an essential metal.

Infectious disease researchers at the University of Adelaide and The University of Queensland have discovered that zinc can help the body kill Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Streptococcus pneumoniae is responsible for more than 1 million deaths a year, killing children, the elderly and other vulnerable people by causing pneumonia, meningitis and other serious infectious diseases.

According to the scientists, zinc “jams shut” a protein transporter in the bacteria so that it cannot take up manganese, an essential metal that Streptococcus pneumoniae needs to infect the body.

“It’s long been known that zinc plays an important role in the body’s ability to protect against bacterial infection, but this is the first time anyone has been able to show how zinc actually blocks an essential pathway causing the bacteria to starve,” says researcher Christopher McDevitt.

“This work spans fields from chemistry and biochemistry to microbiology and immunology to see, at an atomic level of detail, how this transport protein is responsible for keeping the bacteria alive by scavenging one essential metal (manganese), but at the same time also makes the bacteria vulnerable to being killed by another metal (zinc),” says Professor Bostjan Kobe, professor of structural biology at the University of Queensland.

The researchers hope to come up with zinc-based treatments for bacterial infections.

Food sources of zinc include seafood, beef, spinach, pumpkin seeds and chocolate.

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