January 16, 2018

Scientists Discover Achilles’ Heel in Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

Scientists at the University of East Anglia may have discovered the Achilles’ heel of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The research, published in the journal Nature, has found a defensive barrier that drug-resistant bacteria form around themselves.

E.coli Bacteria on TissueThe gram negative bacteria, which include E. coli, form an impermeable lipid-based outer membrane that protects the organisms against attacks by the human immune system and antibiotics. Removing this barrier lets antibiotics kill the bacteria. The study found how the cells transport the barrier’s building blocks, lipopolysaccharides, to the surface of the bacteria.

Group leader Professor Changjiang Dong said in a statement, “we have identified the path and gate used by the bacteria to transport the barrier building blocks to the outer surface. Importantly, we have demonstrated that the bacteria would die if the gate is locked. This is really important because drug-resistant bacteria is a global health problem. Many current antibiotics are becoming useless, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.” And because the drugs don’t need to actually enter the bacteria to kill it once the barrier has been breached, scientists hope that the bacteria will not be able to develop drug resistance in the future.

The research found that seven transport proteins form a trans-envelope complex. The proteins form an unprecedented two-protein “barrel and plug” architecture.

The ongoing Foster Farms chicken Salmonella outbreak highlights the importance of this research. Four antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella bacteria in that outbreak have sickened at least 16,000 people in the United States. Because of antibiotic-resistance, the infections are harder to treat. Almost 40% of people sickened in this particular outbreak have been hospitalized because of the severity of their illness.

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