Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bacteriocins are proteinaceous toxins produced by bacteria to inhibit the growth of similar or closely related bacterial strain(s). They are typically considered to be narrow spectrum antibiotics, though this has been debated They are phenomenologically analogous to yeast and paramecium killing factors, and are structurally, functionally, and ecologically diverse.

Methods of classification

Alternative methods of classification include: method of killing (pore forming, dnase, nuclease, murein production inhibition, etc), genetics (large plasmids, small plasmids, chromosomal), molecular weight and chemistry (large protein, polypeptide, with/without sugar moiety, containing atypical amino acids like lanthionine) and method of production (ribosomal, post ribosomal modifications, non-ribosomal).

Class I bacteriocins

The class I bacteriocins are small peptide inhibitors and include nisin.

Class II bacteriocins

The class II bacteriocins are small heat-stable proteins. The action of Class IIa bacteriocins seems to involve disruption of mannose transport into target cells. Class IIb bacteriocins form pores in the membranes of target cells and disrupt the proton gradient of target cells. Other bacteriocins can be grouped together as Class IIc. These have a wide range of effects on membrane permeability, cell wall formation and pheromone actions of target cells.

Class III bacteriocins

Large, heat-labile protein bacteriocins.

Medical significance

Bacteriocins are of interest in medicine because they are made by non-pathogenic bacteria that normally colonize the human body. Loss of these harmless bacteria following antibiotic use may allow opportunistic pathogenic bacteria to invade the human body.

Bacteriocins have also been suggested as a cancer treatment. They have shown distinct promise as a diagnostic agent for some cancers, , but their status as a form of therapy remains experimental and outside the main thread of cancer research. Partly this is due to questions about their mechanism of action and the presumption that anti-bacterial agents have no obvious connection to killing mammalian tumor cells. Some of these questions have been addressed, at least in part.

In the long quest for medical applications, bacteriocins have also been tested as AIDS drugs.


There are many ways to demonstrate bacteriocin production, depending on the sensitivity and labor intensiveness desired. To demonstrate their production, technicians stab inoculate multiple strains on separate multiple nutrient agar Petri dishes, incubate at 30 °C for 24 h., overlay each plate with one of the strains (in soft agar), incubate again at 30 °C for 24 h. After this process, the presence of bacteriocins can be inferred if there are zones of growth inhibition around stabs. This is the simplest and least sensitive way. It will often mistake phage for bacteriocins. Some methods prompt production with UV radiation, Mitomycin C, or heat shock. UV radiation and Mitomycin C are used because the DNA damage they produce stimulates the SOS response. Cross streaking may be substituted for lawns. Similarly, production in broth may be followed by dripping the broth on a nascent bacterial lawn, or even filtering it. Precipitation (ammonium sulfate) and some purification (e.g. column or HPLC) may help exclude lysogenic and lytic phage from the assay.


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