In 1998, South Australia was affected by an epidemic of haemolytic uraemic syndrome, a hazardous disease that causes acute kidney failure. Toxin generated by some strains of E.coli was found to be the cause of that outbreak.
Dr Adrienne Paton from the University of Adelaide led the research team comprising scientists from ARC Centre of Excellence in Structural and Functional Microbial Genomics of the Monash University, and the United States.
Dr Travis Beddoe from Monash University's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, is one of the researchers who found out that subtilase cytotoxin, a bacterial toxin, turns off an important constituent of the cells in the gastrointestinal tract.
"It is unique because it cuts an essential component of the cell machinery in half, therefore disabling it," he said.
The scientists have discovered how the toxin works and also its 3-D structure. This will be useful in development of treatments for toxin-related ailments.
"This toxin belongs to the family of toxins that cause whooping cough, a very serious bacterial infection that affects children," Dr Beddoe said.
He said, "The research breakthrough may also provide insights into the development of age-related and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, and may be used in the treatment of some cancers. "
The National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council funded the collaborative research.
The results are available in the latest issue of the journal Nature.