New Rules Point Scientists To Next-Gen Pathogens


SIMILAR TO HUMANS, BACTERIA HAVE DEFENSES TO HELP THEM SURVIVE THE ELEMENTS OF THE WORLD. HOWEVER, ONE OF THE MICROORGANISMS MAIN PREROGATIVES IS DAMAGING HUMANS, THEREFORE WE’VE SPENT A LOT OF TIME DISCOVERING ANTIBIOTICS TO HELP FIGHT BACK. WITH BACTERIA’S DEFENSES CHANGING, WE CAN NO LONGER RELY ON MANY PATHOGENS THAT HAVE BEEN EFFECTIVE IN THE PAST. RESEARCHERS ARE STUDYING THE NEWEST RULES AVAILABLE TO FIGHT BACK AGAINST MICROBES, AND PLAN TO DEVELOP CHEMICAL COMPOUNDS THAT FALL WITHIN THESE NEW RULE SETS.

antibiotic proteinLike fortress walls, the membranes that encase bacteria are hard to breach. Not many chemical compounds can break through these defenses to do battle with these germs. But some compounds do. By analyzing them, researchers now know what it takes. Drug developers might want to use the newfound rules to develop more and better antibiotics to treat bacterial infections.

Escherichia coli is one bacterium that belongs to a type known as gram negative. (They got their name because they don’t turn purple when exposed to a violet dye used for what is known as “gram staining.”) These bacteria have two membranes. These barriers control which chemicals enter and exit the germs.

Not all germs are dangerous. But doctors often prescribe antibiotic medicines for pathogens, which are germs that cause disease. Alas, most antibiotics can’t get inside of the outer of a gram negative’s two membranes, notes Paul Hergenrother. He’s a chemical biologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And many drugs that have killed gram-negative bacteria in the past no longer can be counted on to do so. The reason: These germs have evolved traits that allow them to resist — ignore — the drug’s ability to poison them.

The World Health Organization is part of the United Nations. It has been encouraging scientists to develop alternative drugs. In February it released a list of pathogens that not only are resistant to multiple drugs but also that threaten human health. Many bacteria on that list are gram negatives.

To develop new drugs against these germs, researchers would like to understand exactly how successful drugs cross into these one-celled microbes. In the past, researchers have studied how a bacterium’s outer barrier — cell membrane — works, explains Kim Lewis. He’s a microbiologist at Northeastern University in Boston and wasn’t involved in the new study.

With the growing problem of drug-resistant bacteria, Hergenrother and his…

Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

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Sasha Harriet

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