Credit: Huey Huang, Rice University.
A new video, starring the toxin in bee venom, might help scientists design new drugs to combat bacterial infections. The video, by Rice University biophysicist Huey Huang , condenses 6.5 minutes into less than a minute to show how the toxin, called melittin, destroys an animal or bacterial cell.
What looks like a red balloon is an artificial cell filled with red dye. Melittin molecules are colored green and float on the cell’s surface like twigs on a pond. As melittin accumulates on the cell’s membrane, the membrane expands to accommodate it. In the video, the membrane stretches into a column on the left.
When melittin levels reach a critical threshold, countless pinhole leaks burst open in the membrane. The cell’s vital fluids—red dye in the video—leak out through these pores. Within minutes, the cell collapses.
Many organisms use such a pore-forming technique to kill attacking bacterial cells. This research reveals molecular-level details of the strategy, bringing pharmaceutical scientists a step closer to harnessing it in the design of new antibiotics.
Rice University News Release
When Baran’s research team succeeds in synthesizing an important natural product, the group sometimes celebrates with a cake decorated with a two-dimensional structure of the molecule. This molecule, stephacidin B, was isolated from a fungus and has anticancer properties. See images of other Baran lab cakes
As a newly appointed MacArthur Fellow, Phil Baran is now officially a genius. The MacArthur award recognizes “exceptionally creative” individuals who have made significant contributions to their field and are expected to continue doing so. Baran, a synthetic organic chemist at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., was recognized today for “inventing efficient, scalable, and environmentally sound methods” for building, from scratch, molecules produced in nature. Many of these natural products have medicinal properties. Baran has already concocted a host of natural products, including those with the ability to kill bacteria or cancer cells. In addition to emphasizing the important pharmaceutical applications of his work, Baran embraces its creative aspects: “The area of organic chemistry is such a beautiful one because one can be both an artist and an explorer at the same time,” he said in the MacArthur video interview .
NIGMS “Meet a Chemist” Profile of Baran
NIH Director’s Blog Post on Baran’s Recent Work