MSU’s Hammer Studying Ways to Thwart Staph
Researchers led by Neal Hammer of Michigan State University have found that mixing together two different mutants of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria complement each other’s growth defects.
“We discovered that not only can staph share metabolites with other S. aureus, but it can share metabolites with many different bacteria,” said Hammer, who joined the MSU College of natural Scienc’s Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics (MMG) in August 2015 as an assistant professor. “Those interactions are something that we’re trying to find and figure out.”
The overarching theme of Hammer’s lab is threefold: understanding how staph modulates its aerobic respiration, defining the metabolic pathways that support respiration-arrested small colony variants (SCVs) and determining the biophysical properties of the enzymes that allow these SCVs to function in distinct environments.
“If we can figure out the pathways that support respiration-arrested growth, we can potentially design small molecule inhibitors of those pathways and eliminate the ability of staph to develop these SCVs,” Hammer explained. “And if we can figure out ways to inhibit staph’s ability to aerobically respire, it sets up this ‘dual therapy’ where we combine potential therapeutics and hopefully eliminate the ability of bacteria to grow.”
He noted that SCVs are inherently more resistant to certain classes of antibiotics and are associated with persistent infection.
“Understanding the mechanisms that underlie their physiology could lead to ways to decrease their resistance and persistence,” Hammer said. “In general, we’re talking about persistent Staph aureus infections—such as those found in people who have cystic fibrosis and people who have previous bone infections or bone trauma.”
- Excerpted from the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Spring 2016 newsletter