A new chemical compound which works in an analogous way as the antioxidant glutathione is reported online this week in Nature Chemical Biology. The research explains how some bacteria regulate intracellular conditions, and will have major implications on understanding bacterial cell function.
Glutathione is a short peptide that contains a thiol group ― a sulfur atom that can easily switch between being bonded to a hydrogen atom, in the 'reduced' state, or another sulfur atom in the 'oxidized' state. The number of peptides in the reduced or oxidized state has consequences for what other reactions can occur in the cell. Glutathione is not present in many bacteria, making it unclear how they regulate these processes.
Robert Fahey and colleagues have identified bacillithiol as a new natural product that contains a thiol group linked to a sugar residue. This compound, present in Bacillus species and other bacteria, helps explain how these bacteria control their cellular state. This will enable further studies into the proteins that make and regulate bacillithiol.