Many of the chemicals used to stop or eliminate disease-carrying mosquitoes can contaminate ecosystems and promote the evolution of more problematic anti-pesticide species. Fortunately, we’ll soon have a better choice. A new study led by the University of the Alpine Alps in Grenoble and published in nature’s Newsletter has revealed the atomic structure of a very effective Bti crystal, which helps explain the mechanism by which toxins can be transformed into the membranes of mosquito cells,media reported.
Scientists have previously found that a naturally occurring bacterium called Suyun spores (Bti) produces several compounds that kill mosquito larvae, but is harmless to most other organisms. These compounds are present in crystalline form inside bacteria, and when larvae eat microorganisms, high pH and digestive enzymes in the gut cause crystals to dissolve and rearrange into molecules that penetrate the larvae’s intestinal cell membranes, quickly killing insects.
“These results can even explain the difference in toxicity by changing an atom,” said Nicholas Sauter of the Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging Division (MBIB) at Berkeley Lab. This opens the way for the rational design of safe and effective toxins to control specific mosquito species or disease targets. “
Sott and two other MBIB collaborators used their computational expertise to process structural data collected through the X-ray crystallography method, which was performed on the Linear Coherent Light Source (LCLS) of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
“X-ray laser light sources like LCLS are the only technology that produces enough focused beams to detect beams of tiny Bti crystals,” Souter added. Researchers from 10 institutions have collected and interpreted these complex data, which is a good example of ‘big science’ collaboration. “