A recent scientific breakthrough may provide answers in how to treat drug-resistant superbugs. A new study by scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has resulted in the mapping of the “secret passageway” in superbug bacteria. The research shows that antibiotics can enter the bacteria through the passageway, thereby killing it. The development is extremely promising and could eventually render superbug drug resistance useless, as using the long-known yet little understood passageway bypasses the bacteria’s immune system.
Nearly all bacteria have a “back door” or portal that sometimes opens - creating a pathway for antibiotics to penetrate the bacteria’s wall, known as the cell membrane. By pushing through the membrane, the bacteria’s drug resistance is not triggered, rendering it defenseless.
Previous studies of this amazing mechanism showed that a newly developed antibiotic “might” have travelled through a superbug’s portal and killed the bacteria. However, the results were inconsistent and this was due to a lack of understanding the structure of the portal - and the key to opening it.
The new study advances the research by mapping the internal structure of the portal.
Professor Liu Zhenfeng, lead author of the study, stated that, “Scientists can quickly find or design antibiotics if they know the exact structure of the targeted area. It’s like travelling somewhere - it’s much easier if you have a map of the place.” The research was published in the United States journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Zhenfeng further stated that, “Through this fundamental research, which is not directly linked to antibiotics development, the new knowledge may pave the way for a new strategy in our fight against superbugs.”
Prior to the study, the portal’s opening and closing function was believed to be similar to that of a camera’s shutter. The new research indicates that the portal’s structure and mechanics are much more complicated. The hole is believed to initially open like a camera shutter, but as the hole widens, a larger umbrella-like function spurs into action. Liu observed that, “It is incredible that nature has created such a sophisticated device at such a miniscule scale. Every movement of every part will trigger the movement of other parts. It’s beautiful.”
The challenge of studying such a complex, miniscule mechanism took six years to develop. Scientists finally discovered a special catalyst that could speed up the protein’s growth and development, allowing the researchers to view the structure of the portal in significant detail.
While questions remain as to how to consistently open the portal in order to insert the antibiotic, the discovery is a huge step in fighting the war against superbugs.