UEA researchers discover Achilles’ heel in antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Jun 23, 2014

By University of East Anglia


Scientists at the University of East Anglia have made a breakthrough in the race to solve antibiotic resistance.

New research published Wednesday in the journal Nature reveals an Achilles’ heel in the defensive barrier which surrounds drug-resistant bacterial cells.

The findings pave the way for a new wave of drugs that kill superbugs by bringing down their defensive walls rather than attacking the bacteria itself. It means that in future, bacteria may not develop drug-resistance at all.

The discovery doesn’t come a moment too soon. The World Health Organization has warned that antibiotic-resistance in bacteria is spreading globally, causing severe consequences. And even common infections which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.

Researchers investigated a class of bacteria called ‘Gram-negative bacteria’ which is particularly resistant to antibiotics because of its cells’ impermeable lipid-based outer membrane.

This outer membrane acts as a defensive barrier against attacks from the human immune system and antibiotic drugs. It allows the pathogenic bacteria to survive, but removing this barrier causes the bacteria to become more vulnerable and die.

Until now little has been known about exactly how the defensive barrier is built. The new findings reveal how bacterial cells transport the barrier building blocks (called lipopolysaccharides) to the outer surface.

Group leader Prof Changjiang Dong, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “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.”

7 comments on “UEA researchers discover Achilles’ heel in antibiotic-resistant bacteria

  • Without denying for a moment the obvious benefit of this, a caution needs to be put in, that since the vast proportion of antibiotics is fed to food animals, we do not simply see a massive increase in the dissemination of universally lethal antibiotics through the food chain.

    I may be talking through my tinfoil hat, but the possibility of a bacterial overkill occurs to me, which would be as destructive to large organisms, like us, that rely on a bacterial population to live, as is the present situation with MDR bacteria.

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  • 3
    level6atheist says:

    Great news but how long will it take to develop a safe drug (or drugs) to combat the antibiotic resistant bacteria and how many years will it be before the FDA allows the use of such a drug (or drugs)?

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  • There are many biofilm lysing agents in use clinically (Plaquenil, heparin, serratio peptidase) with antibiotics, but this is exciting because it raises the possibility of treatment without antibiotics.

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  • 5
    kumadojo says:

    We need the bacteria, without them WE DIE!
    How can this technique select good bacteria from bad bacteria????
    It can NOT!
    If this method is practised, we can count down our days on this planet!
    We have NO RIGHTS to play God, so why they think we can?
    Nature has its own laws!
    Humans should NOT intefere!!!!

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  • 6
    mikaeldui says:

    Peter, are you sure? It doesn’t look like you’ve even read the full article. Since you apparently is not a biologist of any kind I do not think you’re the right person to tell others that this is unsafe since you don’t even know what it is nor how it works.

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  • 7
    scargill says:

    Stunning the number of people in here referring to religion (which has never, ever cured disease) or are anti-science. I wonder how many will say no to new drugs developed from this research, when they are dying thanks to diseases that anti-biotics would once have sorted. Not many I’ll guess. Left to “mother nature” – most of us over 40 would be dead by now. It is the human race and it’s science – be that drugs, food science or whatever, that have enabled us to live past 80 – not religion, not wishful thinking and not nature.

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