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University of Basel

27 February 2015

Nanosized bacterial speargun

One micrometer long and less than thirty nanometers wide – more than thousand times thinner than a human hair – that’s the size of a bacterial “speargun”. This so-called type VI secretion system is an almost unbeatable weapon in fighting against competitors or invading host cells. In a recent publication in “Cell” the team of Prof. Marek Basler at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel shed light on the structure of this secretion apparatus at atomic level.

Structure of the contractile sheath of Vibrio cholerae type VI secretion system.
Structure of the contractile sheath of Vibrio cholerae type VI secretion system. © University of Basel, Biozentrum.

Many types of bacteria including pathogens causing cholera or pneumonia use the type VI secretion system (T6SS) to kill eukaryotic host cells or surrounding competitors to enhance their survival. This versatile tool plays an important role not only in virulence but also in symbiosis and interactions between bacteria. A team of researchers led by Marek Basler, Professor at the Biozentrum, University of Basel, has now resolved the structure of an important component of the T6SS at the atomic level and provides new insights into the assembly of this nanomachine. 

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