A New Kind of Antibiotic

Photo of Laura Kiessling

Recognition of microbial glycans by human intelectin-1

Scientists seeking to develop the next generation of antibiotics may have found a crucial clue within the human body: a protein that distinguishes between our cells and those of invading microbes, according to a study led by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The new study, which appears in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, suggests the protein intelectin could hold the key to a new kind of antibiotic. The protein is found mostly in the human gut and the lungs, places especially vulnerable to invaders. Intelectin levels rise in response to an infection.

“This has the potential to change the game in terms of how we combat microbes,” said Laura Kiessling, the UW professor of chemistry and biochemistry who led the study. The project also involved work by UW bacteriology professor Katrina T. Forest as well as scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

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