I think our paper is highly cited because it provides a comprehensive
overview of all aspects of outer membrane (OM) biogenesis in gram-negative
bacteria. Most previous reviews dealt with only outer membrane proteins
(OMPs), or lipids, or lipoproteins. Also, there has been a lot of progress
in this field in recent years, with the elucidation of key components of
the OMP assembly machinery and of the lipopolysaccharide transport system,
and we included many recent new discoveries in this review.
Would you summarize the significance of your paper
in layman's terms?
Many infectious diseases are caused by a special type of bacteria, called
gram-negative bacteria. They contain a specialized surface, the outer
membrane. Bacterial diseases can often be cured with antibiotics, but as
most people know, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is an
increasing problem, and thus, novel antibiotics need to be developed.
One way to design effective antibiotics is to understand how the surface of
the bacterium is formed, and then to use this knowledge to rationally
design antibiotics that will enter the bacteria and inhibit essential
processes necessary for their survival. Also, an understanding of what
makes up the surface of the bacterium is necessary to design effective
How did you become involved in this research, and
were there any problems along the way?
I became involved in research on bacterial infectious diseases when John
Swanson, then head of the laboratory of Microbial Structure and Function at
the Rocky Mountain Laboratories of the National Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases, NIH, Hamilton, MT, offered me the opportunity to do a
post-doc in his lab. I worked there on the interaction of the
gonorrhea-causing bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae with human host
Since my return to Holland, I have been focusing on outer membrane
biogenesis in a closely related bacterium, Neisseria meningitidis.
Also, we try to apply our findings to the development of vaccines.
I would not say there were many problems along the way, besides the usual
frustrations that any scientist encounters. Luckily, there were enough
exciting findings to make up for the frustrations.
Where do you see your research leading in the
future? Do you foresee any social or political implications for your
I hope my research will contribute significantly to an overall fundamental
understanding of how bacterial surfaces are formed. There are still many
unanswered questions. I expect, especially from comparing these fundamental
processes in different organisms, both experimentally and by in
silico genome mining, to gain more insights.
I also hope that our research will continue to contribute to the design of
novel antibiotics and vaccines. We have already developed a fruitful
collaboration with the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline to develop
vaccines against Neisseria meningitidis, a bacterium causing
sometimes fatal meningitis and sepsis, especially in very young children.
In developed countries, this bacterium carries one of the only very few
infectious diseases which can cause infants to die.
Even more dreadful is the fact that this bacterium causes waves of epidemic
disease in Africa, in the so-called meningitis belt, causing thousands of
deaths every year. I sincerely hope our research will contribute to the
development of effective vaccines that will prevent this devastating
disease from making further inroads.
Martine P. Bos, Ph.D.
Department of Molecular Microbiology