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Adam Linstedt and Somshuvra Mukhopadhyay, biology researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have discovered that manganese – a common, inexpensive mineral – can prevent and neutralize the effects of the deadliest strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli). According to Linstedt, this is a “classic example of serendipity in science.”
E. coli, composed of bad bacteria, is found in feces, which spreads by contaminating food and water. The mostly deadly strain contains a toxin called the Shiga toxin, which attacks cells individually. Cells contain endosomes, which test foreign substances and direct the undesirable ones to the lysosome, the cell’s waste disposal unit.
The Shiga toxin attacks and destroys cells individually by hijacking the protein (GPP130), which cyclically travels to various parts of the cell and drops off molecules at their respective destinations. The toxin then makes the GPP130 maneuver away from the lysosome, avoiding its destruction. Ultimately, the Shiga toxin halts the cell’s process to create protein, consequently killing the cell.
This strain of E. coli causes lethal infections, which lead to dysentery, severe diarrhea, kidney failure, anemia, and so on. Last year, 3,700 people were infected with E. coli, and 45 were killed in western Europe.
The idea of manganese being the cure began with Don Smith, a toxicologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Performing an experiment to study manganese toxicity in cells, he found out that the mineral easily affects GPP130. When Linstedt and Mukhopadhyay learned of Smith’s findings, they took the experiment further.
Using mice as test subjects and their knowledge of how the Shiga toxin infiltrates the cell, Linstedt and Mukhopadhyay experimented to see if manganese had any effect on hijacked GPP130. They learned that manganese directs GPP130 on track to the lysosome, getting rid of the Shiga toxin and neutralizing any present effects as well.
“If we weren’t focused on answering fundamental biological questions, we wouldn’t have made this discovery,” Linstedt says in the Carnegie Mellon University press release.
He and Mukhopadhyay believe that manganese can be taken along with antibiotics to form a perfect combination to completely take out E. coli. When current antibiotics kill the E. coli bacteria, the Shiga toxin is released in much larger amounts. However, this unfortunate response can be counteracted with manganese, which blocks the toxin.
“An inexpensive, accessible treatment — not a designer drug — is the ideal solution,” Linstedt says. “We know the toxicity levels of manganese in humans; we know ways to administer it. While further testing is needed to determine if manganese is a suitable treatment for humans, I’m optimistic that trials should move forward quickly.”
In addition to being a supplement in vitamins, manganese can be found in many foods: nuts, kale, strawberries, spinach, garlic, grapes, brown rice, and spices, such as thyme and tumeric.