How Legionella bacteria avoid your body’s defences

One of the ways the body gets rid of infection is to eat up bacteria or viruses within its cells – a process called autophagy. But Legionella have evolved ways to evade this process, allowing them to survive in host cells. Legionella does this by producing a molecule called RavZ to disrupt the autophagy machinery, but until now it was not known exactly how RavZ achieves this effect.

Work by Dr. Yaowen Wu, Group Leader, and his team at the Chemical Genomics Centre of the Max Planck Society in Germany identified the creation of a membrane-bound ‘sac’ that engulfs bacteria or other debris, so that the cell can get rid of it. Dr. Wu and his colleagues show that the RavZ molecule uses a ‘tweezer’ and ‘scissor’ process to first extract materials from the cell membrane, and then break it into its two components, preventing autophagy.

“Legionella bacteria have evolved a very smart and efficient mechanism during evolution to avoid being eaten by our cells,” says Dr. Wu. “We hope that understanding these mechanisms will be beneficial for the development of new drugs against infection by Legionella.”

The paper ‘Elucidation of the anti-autophagy mechanism of the Legionella effector RavZ using semisynthetic LC3 proteins’ can be found online at


(summarised from an article on

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