Updated 8:44 AM EDT, Wed, Aug 18, 2021

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Nature's Measuring 'Rulers' Discovered by Scientists

P. aeruginosa bacteria

Gram-stained P. aeruginosa bacteria shown as pink dots

Researchers from the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom and Guelph in Canada have used cutting edge X-ray and ultraviolet light studies to reveal the workings of the molecular ruler that helps bacteria survive and outsmart the human immune system.

The research findings are a huge step towards helping scientists fundamentally understand some points of biology.

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Biology can control the length of polymer chains using a molecular ruler dating back to the early 1970s. Scientists have never been able to visualize this 'ruler' at the molecular level.

The careful control mechanisms are common in nature.

"The molecular ruler, which we've shown to be a rigid coiled-coil protein/protein complex, is critical as without it bacteria have no idea when to stop producing the long polymers that are attached to their outer membranes," said Professor James Naismith explaining the significance of his work.

He continued by saying the length of these sugar polymers are controlled in the same way as curtain makers pull and measure rolls of fabric before deciding where to make their cut.

"It is a beautiful and elegant demonstration of form and function," Naismith says.

When animals or humans are invaded by bacteria, our body does its best to counter them with the use of the natural immune responses. If those don't work,however,  that is when we turn to doctors.

The danger when combating bacteria using medicine is these bacteria also have defense mechanisms. They use these sugar polymers to protect themselves.

The insight the research gives scientists and the world is if the molecular ruler can be manipulated, it can help us fight against diseases and open up new avenues to formulating novel drugs in the future.

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