MAR 13, 2019 8:10 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
JUN 06, 2020
Immunology
Cancer Cell Clusters Better At Resisting the Immune System
JUN 06, 2020
Cancer Cell Clusters Better At Resisting the Immune System
For cancerous cells in the body, it seems there is safety in numbers. Researchers from a newly published study investiga ...
JUN 11, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Changes in Gut Mucus are Connected to Brain Disorders
JUN 11, 2020
Changes in Gut Mucus are Connected to Brain Disorders
In recent years, researchers have learned more about how important the gut is to human health. Trillions of microbes liv ...
JUN 14, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Denisovan DNA Influences the Immune System of Oceanian People
JUN 14, 2020
Denisovan DNA Influences the Immune System of Oceanian People
As species in the genus homo evolved, our ancient ancestors interbred with populations of Neanderthals and Denisovans.
JUN 29, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Why Two Similar Bacterial Toxins Cause Different Illnesses
JUN 29, 2020
Why Two Similar Bacterial Toxins Cause Different Illnesses
The microbial pathogens of the world have shown us how powerful they can be, most recently proven by the current pandemi ...
JUL 13, 2020
Microbiology
New Gene Editor Can Alter Mitochondrial DNA
JUL 13, 2020
New Gene Editor Can Alter Mitochondrial DNA
There is intense competition for resources in the microbial world, and bacteria have an arsenal of weapons to help them ...
JUL 15, 2020
Immunology
Immune Memory to Thwart Recurring Cancer
JUL 15, 2020
Immune Memory to Thwart Recurring Cancer
Preventing cancer from returning in the body is an integral part of any anti-cancer treatment plan. New discoveries from ...
Loading Comments...