Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Corkscrew Curls

The corkscrew motion of stomach-infecting H.pylori bacteria revealed

28 February 2020

Corkscrew Curls

These corkscrew-shaped critters are H. pylori bacteria that live in the stomach, setting up infections that cause ulcers and can increase the risk of stomach cancer. The bacterial cells twist as they grow, eventually lengthening into curly tubes. This curious conformation allows them to worm their way through the sticky protective mucus lining the stomach and infect vulnerable tissue. By carefully studying bacteria under the microscope as they grow (top row) and then developing computer simulations based on their measurements (bottom rows), researchers have discovered that the twisted shape forms through the opposing actions of two proteins that control the growth of the bacterial cell wall. One creates the inward (blue) curve, while the other makes the wall bulge outwards (red). Developing therapies that interfere with this process could be a way of preventing stomach ulcers and cancers by creating straight bugs that can’t break through the protective mucus barrier.

Written by Kat Arney

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