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Home > Press > Superbugs, shapes and nanotechnology

A common hospital superbug called Clostridium has a protective coat of armour that can self assemble when put into a test tube on its own, which may have important commercial uses in nanotechnology, according to scientists speaking today (Thursday 6 September 2007) at the Society for General Microbiology's 161st Meeting at the University of Edinburgh, UK, which runs from 3-6 September 2007.

Superbugs, shapes and nanotechnology

UK | Posted on September 5th, 2007

Like many other micro-organisms, Clostridium difficile produces a lattice coat made of proteins to surround its cell wall and protect it like a suit of armour. The complete protein coat is then attached to the underlying cell wall with chemical bonds.

"We have discovered that these protein coats have a remarkable ability to self-assemble when they are taken off the bacteria and put into a test tube. Normally, on the bacteria, the proteins are not randomly arranged, they form regularly spaced geometrically arranged shapes, a bit like the rings in chain mail¡", says Dr Neil Fairweather of Imperial College London, UK. "We discovered that the proteins can do the same thing, and form the same distinct layers and shape, on their own in a test tube¡".

This finding opens up two areas of research for the science teams. It may lead to new ways of fighting hospital superbugs like Clostridium difficile by exposing weaknesses in the coats, or by identifying new target molecules. And in the new field of nanotechnology, where tiny particles are currently used in sunscreens and other products, finding ways to make molecules self assemble themselves into regular shapes could have important commercial applications.

"The field of nanotechnology is opening up to many new areas, and our research points to applications for this exciting technology in fighting superbugs like C. difficile¡" says Dr Fairweather.


About Society for General Microbiology
The Society for General Microbiology is the largest microbiology society in Europe, and has over 5,500 members worldwide. The Society provides a common meeting ground for scientists working in research and in fields with applications in microbiology including medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmaceuticals, industry, agriculture, food, the environment and education.

The SGM represents the science and profession of microbiology to government, the media and the general public; supporting microbiology education at all levels; and encouraging careers in microbiology.

Notes to News Editors:
For further information contact Dr Neil Fairweather, Division of Cell and Molecular Biology, Imperial College London tel: 020 7594 5247, fax: 020 7594 3069, email:

Dr Fairweather is presenting the paper "Clostridium difficile and nanotechnology" at 1150 on Thursday 06 September 2007 in the Clinical Microbiology Group session of the 161st Meeting of the Society for General Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh, 03 - 06 September 2007.

For press enquiries during the meeting please contact the SGM desk on +44 (0) 131 650 4581 or mobile telephone +44 (0) 7824 88 30 10

For enquiries prior to the meeting contact Lucy Goodchild at the SGM office, tel: +44 (0) 118 988 1843, fax: +44 (0) 118 988 5656, email:

Full programme details of this meeting can be found on the Society's website at: . Hard copies are available on request from the SGM.

For more information, please click here

Lucy Goodchild


Copyright © Society for General Microbiology

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