Bacteria may lead to HIV vaccine

Rhizobium radiobacter. Ever heard of it? It's a bug that causes crown gall disease in plants. So what does that have to do with vaccines against HIV? Canadian researchers have found sugars on the surface of the bacterium that are remarkably similar to those on the surface of the virus, and they think these could provide a map to designing new vaccines that target HIV.

The researchers have found a lipooligosaccharide--a kind of sugar--on the surface of Rhizobium radiobacter that acts as a target for an anti-HIV antibody called 2G12 that usually binds to the HIV surface glycoprotein gp120. The research was published in Chemistry & Biology.

"The irony of our discovery is not lost on us," says Ralph Pantophlet, from Simon Fraser University. "We've found that a harmless species of a bacteria family that can cause tumors in the roots of legume plants could become a vital tool in the fight against one of the deadliest infectious diseases."

The next step is to link the bacterial sugars to a protein that will trigger the immune response, and the team is seeking grant funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. The route to an HIV vaccine has been long, but perhaps this approach could harness plant and microbiology to bring us just a small step closer.

- read the press release
- see the abstract