The Type -III Secretory Apparatus
In the popular imagination, bacteria are "germs" – tiny microscopic bugs that make us sick. Microbiologists smile at that generalization, knowing that most bacteria are perfectly benign, and many are beneficial – even essential – to human life. Nonetheless, there are indeed bacteria that produce diseases, ranging from the mildly unpleasant to the truly dangerous. Pathogenic, or disease-causing, bacteria threaten the organisms they infect in a variety of ways, one of which is to produce poisons and inject them directly into the cells of the body. Once inside, these toxins break down and destroy the host cells, producing illness, tissue damage, and sometimes even death.
In order to carry out this diabolical work, bacteria must not only produce the protein toxins that bring about the demise of their hosts, but they must efficiently inject them across the cell membranes and into the cells of their hosts. They do this by means of any number of specialized protein secretory systems. One, known as the type III secretory system (TTSS), allows gram negative bacteria to translocate proteins directly into the cytoplasm of a host cell (Heuck 1998). The proteins transferred through the TTSS include a variety of truly dangerous molecules, some of which are known as "virulence factors," and are directly responsible for the pathogenic activity of some of the most deadly bacteria in existence (Büttner and Bonas 2002; Heuck 1998).
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