Physics professor is a contributing author to Nature Communications article

Physics professor Mohammad Yousef, along with other scientists, researched bacterial melibiose permease (Melb) and learned about the behavior of this protein on bacterial surface.  Their findings were recently published in “Nature Communications,” a scientific journal.

Physics Professor Mohammad Yousef is contributing writer to "Nature Communications" scientific journal article. Photo courtesy of Mohammad Yousef.

The discovery about the function of the protein in bacteria, according to Yousef, “is a very important piece of information.”

“On the surface of the bacterial cell, this protein acts as a primordial [ancient] mouth. It’s basically closed until the bacteria tastes sugar then it opens up, swallows the sugar then closes again,” Yousef said. “If you want to kill the bacteria, you can design a drug to clog the mouth to starve the bacteria to death. But in general, in fundamental science, it’s important to learn how this primordial mouth works.”

There is not much information known about surface proteins in general, according to Yousef, because they are difficult to “photograph.”

“What makes this very difficult is once you extract this protein from the surface of the bacteria it becomes very floppy and unstable, difficult to photograph by X-ray,” Yousef said.

About a decade of work was invested, according to Yousef, to produce the first 3-D image of this protein through an experimental technique called X-ray crystallography. In this process X-ray light is shone on the protein crystals.

The research, according to Yousef, helps answer more interesting questions.

“This protein needs sodium to work and it was not clearly understood why a mouth would need sodium to swallow sugar. The article provides insight,” Yousef said.

“Nature Communications,” according to Yousef, is among the most prestigious scientific journals.

Yousef said he was lucky to work with a fantastic team of scientists, led by Lan Guan, professor of cell physiology and molecular biophysics, at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center “who is a world leader in the field, extremely talented and dedicated scientist”.

Yousef is happy for the publication and proud to be a part of a mission “once thought impossible.”

Physics Department Chair Abdullatif Hamad said he is proud of Yousef on behalf of the department and the university.

“This publication is a testimony on the quality of Dr. Yousef’s research,” Hamad said. “The physics department at SIUE is proud of Dr. Yousef and very happy to have him among our faculty. I believe the entire SIUE community should be proud of this accomplishment because such scholarly work increases the visibility of SIUE nationally as well as internationally.”

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