Hijacking Bacterial Communication Systems
Bacterial cell-to-cell communication is a fascinating mechanism by which bacterial populations can coordinate the expression of numerous genes, and thereby adapt to environmental changes.
A type of bacterial communication, dubbed quorum sensing, is mediated by signaling molecules called acyl-homoserine lactones, and their concentration can be regulated by lactonases. Our group is investigating the potential of lactonases to alter bacterial communication and affect their metabolic state. In particular, the hydrolysis of environmental signaling molecules by a lactonase can inhibit the production of virulence factors and biofilm. New solutions exploiting these properties are currently being developed by the group, such as anti-virulence plasters, or anti-biofouling paints.
Interference in quorum sensing differs from any existing approaches because lactonases do not need to contact nor enter bacteria, but rather merely to degrade secreted molecules to affect bacterial behavior. For these reasons, it is a promising new approach to deal with resistant, pathogenic strains.
Additionally, lactonases are promiscuous enzymes that can fortuitously catalyze the hydrolysis of organophosphorous insecticides. The Lab is engaged in structure-based, combinatorial engineering approaches to improve the phosphotriesterase activity of these enzymes, with the aim of developing an efficient insecticide bio-decontaminant.