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article imageCarnivorous mushroom provides insight into human immune system

By Tim Sandle     Feb 9, 2015 in Science
Scientists have been examining how edible oyster mushrooms eat spiders and roundworms. The proteins at play are similar to those found in the human immune system. So, what can we learn?
Edible oyster mushrooms incapacitate their “prey” using proteins that punch their way into cells. This leaves small and poisonous holes. This has been shown by a science team who deployed a synchrotron light and cryo-electron microscope to visualise the activity of a protein called pleurotolysin. The protein binds to the surface of an object, like a spider, and punches a hole in it. This either kills are cell directly or opens the cell up to be killed by other proteins.
Pleurotus ostreatus, the oyster mushroom, is a common edible mushroom. It is a popular wild mushroom that people forage for. It has the bittersweet aroma of benzaldehyde (which is also characteristic of anise or almonds).
The advanced imaging allowed the researchers to view how the pleurotolysin protein moved. The protein undergoes are complex series of unfolding and refolding movements, and this mechanism is used to punch a hole in the target cell.
What is remarkable is that the mechanism is similar to that shown by our immune system. The researchers want to apply this knowledge to the mammalian cell. Thus by pinpointing the activities of the protein in the mushroom this could open the way to new drug targets as well as new techniques for medicine, agriculture, genetic engineering and nano-engineering. The research could also, one day, be of benefit to people with poorly functioning immune systems.
The findings have been published in the journal PLOS Biology, and the paper is titled “Conformational Changes during Pore Formation by the Perforin-Related Protein Pleurotolysin.”
More about Carnivorous mushroom, Cancer, oyster mushrooms, Protein
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