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Spin the Wheel

Details of the molecular motor controlling the whip-like tail of the Lyme disease bacterium highlight new targets for treatment

09 December 2018

Spin the Wheel

These technical-looking diagrams are the plans for a highly sophisticated motor. But rather than being the kind of engine that you might find in a car or a plane, it’s a tiny molecular motor found inside Borrelia burgdorferi – the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. The motor spins a whip-like structure called a flagellum, enabling the bugs to swim around. Using an incredibly high-powered electron microscope, researchers have now been able to peer deep into the structure of this bacterial motor and work out the arrangement of the individual atoms it is built from. The orange structure at the centre is a component known as an ATPase, which generates the cellular energy to spin the surrounding ‘hub’ and ‘spokes’ that are attached to the flagellum. Mapping the intricate details of nature’s engineering could lead to the development of new drugs designed to jam the motor and treat bacterial infections more effectively.

Written by Kat Arney

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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