MAR 13, 2019 08:10 AM PDT

A New Mode of Antibiotic Resistance is Revealed

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

An ever-increasing number of bacteria can evade the effects of antibiotics, which is considered a serious threat to public health. Researchers are working to develop novel drugs to combat these so-called superbugs, but progress doesn’t seem to be happening fast enough. New work may help in that effort. Scientists at the University of California San Diego have used mathematical modeling and experiments at the lab bench to identify a previously unknown mechanism used by bacteria to survive exposure to antibiotics. Their findings have been reported in Cell, and importantly, their efforts have potentially revealed a way to boost the efficacy of existing antibiotics.

A digitally-colorized,SEM image of four magenta-colored, spherical, methicillin-resistant, Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, being phagocytized by a blue-colored human white blood cell (WBC) known specifically as a neutrophil./ Credit: NIAID

"We have found an unexpected new mechanism that actively growing bacteria utilize to become resilient against antibiotics," said Gürol Süel, a professor of molecular biology at UC San Diego's Division of Biological Sciences. "With this discovery, we can now explore new ways to combat infections that we couldn't have thought of before."

In this study, the scientists found that when bacteria encounter antibiotics, they can alter the level of magnesium ions that they absorb. That stabilizes structures called ribosomes, which are complexes that generate proteins in bacteria (in eukaryotes, ribosomes are protein-generating organelles). 

The scientists looked closely at the flow of magnesium ions across the bacterial cell membrane, called a membrane potential, and how it related to ribosomal activity. Many different ions play important biological roles, so bacterial cells must control their flow in order to modulate the processes within. The research team’s work "reveals how these ancient and fundamental cellular processes that are essential for life are interacting with each other," said Süel. Bacteria use magnesium ions in their effort to defend against antibiotics. Disrupting their ability to take magnesium up can have an important impact.

"Antibiotic resistance is a major public threat to our health," said Süel. "The number of drugs coming onto the market is not keeping up with the ability of bacteria to cope with those drugs."

Süel suggested that researchers might be able to make existing antibiotics more effective by tinkering with a bacteria’s ability to absorb magnesium. It might be a shortcut to improved antibiotic potency, without the extensive effort required to bring a new drug to market. 

In the video above, Professor Süel discusses his research. You can learn more about the antibiotic resistance crisis from the video below, and about how you can help solve this problem.


Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via University of California San Diego, Cell

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JAN 19, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
JAN 19, 2020
Researchers Explore the Electricity-Conducting Power of Proteins
Researchers have known that proteins can insulate electrical flow, but their power as conductors has only recently been recognized....
JAN 19, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 19, 2020
Learning More About Changes in Cancer Cell Identity
Cancer cells can change their identity and can take on new functions and characteristics, which is often rooted in epigenetic alterations....
JAN 19, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
JAN 19, 2020
How Nature Creates a Multitude of Leaf Shapes
Different plants exhibit leaves with very diverse shapes, and now scientists know how nature does it....
JAN 19, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
JAN 19, 2020
A New Understanding of How Scars Form
Researchers have gained new insight into how the body scars, which can help scientists prevent pathological fibrosis, and initiate scarless healing....
JAN 19, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
JAN 19, 2020
An Antioxidant Found in Green Tea Can Fight Tuberculosis
In 2018, around ten million people around the globe were sickened by tuberculosis (TB) and about 1.5 million people were killed by tuberculosis....
JAN 19, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
JAN 19, 2020
Shared Mechanisms of Mitochondrial Division Highlight Evolutionary Links
Organisms as different as humans and algae have some biological mechanisms in common....
Loading Comments...