US researchers discover how teardrops destroy dangerous bacteria

Added by on January 19, 2012

A team of researchers at the US University of California, Irvine (UCI) have found exactly how antiseptic proteins in teardrops work to annihilate harmful bacteria.

About a century ago Alexander Fleming, a Nobel laureate, found that human teardrops contain lysozymes – proteins that have bacteria fighting capabilities. Ever since the discovery of lysozymes, scientists have been trying to understand their mechanism of action for potential use in wiping out other bacteria.

The scientists at UCI discovered that the bacteria killing protein in human teardrops are shaped like jaws that latch on and eat through rows of cell walls. “Those jaws chew apart the walls of the bacteria that are trying to get into your eyes and infect them”, said Gregory Weiss – a molecular biologist and chemistry professor. Weiss co-led the project with Philip Collins, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at UCI.

The researchers figured out how lysozymes work by listening in on them as they ate harmful bacteria. Researchers build a tiny transistor – one of the world’s smallest at about 25 times smaller than the transistors found in most laptop computers and smartphones – and glued individual lysozymes to the live wire. “It’s just like a stethoscope listening to your heart, except we were listening to a single molecule of protein,” explained Collins.

The researchers hope the same technology and approach can be used to detect cancerous molecules to assist in early detection.

The findings will be published in the January 20 edition of Science.