Case of Breaking and Entering

nraveling the complex mechanisms that prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells use to transport materials across their membranes can potentially aid in the development of new antimicrobial medications. Armed with a precise model of the structure and function of bacterial transporter proteins, scientists might be able to design new drugs that exploit

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these systems. One strategy would be to design compounds that irreversibly bind to transporter molecules and jam the mechanism. If the microbes can be prevented from bringing in nutrients and removing wastes, their growth would cease. Another strategy would be to enhance the uptake or decrease the efflux of a specific compound that interferes with intracellular processes. This is already being done to some extent as new derivatives of current antibiotics are being produced, but more precise understanding of the processes by which bacteria take up or remove compounds could expedite drug development.

A more thorough understanding of eukaryotic uptake systems could be used to develop better antiviral drugs. Recall that viruses exploit the process of receptor-mediated endocytosis to gain entry into the cell. Once they are enclosed within the endosome, their protective protein coat is removed, releasing their genetic material. New drugs can potentially be developed that block these steps, preventing the entry or uncoating of infectious viral particles.

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