A East Carolina University (ECU) researcher received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to study how the bacteria that causes Lyme disease moves. In order for the bacteria to survive in the host and be transmitted to new hosts, they have to be able to move. Bacterial motility — their ability to move — relies on flagella, whiplike appendages that protrude from the body of the bacterial cells.


Dr. MD Motaleb, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine and his team, with the help of a new $1.69 million grant, will look for the genes that make up a special unit of the flagella that enable bacterial motility.

“Certain genes are responsible for their movement, and when we knock out those genes they become immotile — they cannot move,” Motaleb said. Ultimately he hopes the work could lead to the development of an antibacterial agent. “If we have a better idea of the physiology of the bacteria, we can someday develop an agent that can inhibit the rotation of bacterial motors as a means to inhibit the diseases.”

It’s also possible that the same knowledge could be used against other bacteria that cause serious diseases such as syphilis or leptospirosis.

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that are most often transmitted to humans by tick bites.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the number of people infected annually exceeds 300,000.

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