Golden staph fluoresces in rainbow colours

16 April 2013

Images of living Golden Staph cells, containing green and red fluorescent proteins, light up the cover of next month's Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Fluorescently labelled Golden Staph, by researchers from the School of Biological Sciences, feature on the cover of AEM
Fluorescently labelled Golden Staph, by researchers from the School of Biological Sciences, feature on the cover of AEM

How do you see into a cell? How do you know where in a cell a particular protein is located? Proteins are tiny! How can you watch as the location or concentration of that protein changes with time? Simple. You attach a coloured light and watch it with a fancy microscope!

Ok, there is a bit more to it than gluing a light-bulb onto a string of amino acids but in laymen's terms, that is what we are looking at in this image. In science speak, two proteins called FtsZ (a cell division initiator) and Noc (a nucleoid occlusion factor), were separately fused to red and green fluorescent proteins. What is exciting about this picture is that it proves a method whereby we can visualise simultaneously where these proteins are in the cell. The blue colour in the picture comes from the chromosomes, which have been labelled with a DNA-binding fluorescent dye.

This fluorescence micrograph was captured by Dr Anthony J. Brzoska, of the Molecular Genetics laboratory in the School of Biological Sciences, and has featured on the cover of the May 2013 edition of Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The cover image was captured as a part of a project that seeks to expand the number of molecular tools available for use in research into staphylococci (a type of bacteria). So, more than just a pretty picture, scientists can use these new protein-labelling strategies to understand important biological processes in an important clinical pathogen.

Golden staph (Staphylococcus aureus) causes a range of medical problems and is endemic in hospitals worldwide. Antibiotic resistance in S. aureus is a significant health issue because many strains have become resistant to existing treatments. The genetic toolkit described in the journal article by Anthony Brzoska and Neville Firth, affords researchers a new way by which to understand the spatial and temporal organisation of proteins in S. aureus. Understanding of the fundamental processes of staphylococci may lead to break-throughs in the development of new classes of urgently required anti-staphylococcal drugs.