Salmonella poisoning, dysentery, the plague, typhoid fever, and a number of other serious ailments are caused by a diverse group of bacterial pathogens that have one thing in common: They all use the same syringe-like system to infect their hosts.

Known as a "type III secretion system," this trait allows bacteria to inject virulent proteins straight into the cells of the organism they’re infecting. Now, Rockefeller researchers have uncovered the first structural similarity shared by these disparate but virulent proteins, a similarity that may help direct future antibiotic research.

In a paper published in Molecular Cell, C. Erec Stebbins, associate professor and head of Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Structural Microbiology, identifies a common mechanism by which these virulence factors interact with their chaperones, creating a potential target for future anti-bacterial drugs.