Beating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

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BookerbacteriaNIHAt the end of 2014 the British government released a frightening report about antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The report says higher rates of drug-resistant bacterial infections could result in 10 million deaths a year by 2050 and calculated the financial toll to be $100 trillion.

Antibiotic-resistant infections are rising and foiling efforts to reduce death rates in developing countries where uncontrolled use of antibiotics and poor sanitation run amok. The epidemic of “superbugs,” bacteria resistant to antibiotics, knows no borders. This presents a real danger around the world.

A discovery from Tel Aviv University researchers may strengthen efforts by the medical community to fight this looming superbug pandemic. By sequencing the DNA of bacteria resistant to viral toxins, TAU researchers have identified novel proteins capable of stopping growth of treacherous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Published last month in PNAS, the research was led by Prof. Udi Qimron of the Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology at TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and conducted primarily by TAU researcher Shahar Molshanski-Mor.

“Because bacteria and bacterial viruses have co-evolved over billions of years, we suspected the viruses might contain precisely the weapons necessary to fight the bacteria,” said Prof. Qimron. “So we systematically screened for such proteins in the bacterial viruses for over two and a half years.”

Using high-throughput DNA sequencing, the researchers located mutations in bacterial genes that resisted the toxicity of growth inhibitors produced by bacterial viruses. Thus, the team identified a new small protein, growth inhibitor gene product (Gp) 0.6, which specifically targets and inhibits the activity of a protein essential to bacterial cells. The inhibitor stopped the activity of a protein vital to bacterial cells — a protein that maintains the bacterial cell structure. Malfunction of this bacterial protein resulted in the rupture and consequent death of the bacterial cell.

According to Prof. Qimron, “The new technology and our new interdisciplinary collaboration, drawing from bioinformatics and molecular biology, promoted our study more than we could have anticipated. “We hope our approach will be used to further identify new growth inhibitors and their targets across bacterial species and in higher organisms.”

The team is continuing to study the bacterial viruses in the hope of identifying compounds and processes that facilitate improved treatment of antibiotic-resistant bacteria using yet uncharacterized bacterial viruses’ proteins. The rearchers believe that further basic knowledge on bacterial viruses biology will eventually lead to unexpected breakthroughs in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Image: NIH

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