By turning modern scientific tools on an antibiotic discovered 70 years ago, researchers have unearthed a previously unknown mechanism it uses to pierce and pop superbugs like balloons. Promisingly, the scientists have also demonstrated how this approach to taking out bacteria can be supercharged by combining it with other antibiotics, potentially offering a new form of defense against deadly, drug-resistant bacteria.
The drug at the center of this study is called colistin, which was first described in 1947 and has since become a last-resort treatment for bacterial infections that have grown resistant to other medications. As one of only a handful of drugs capable of taking the fight to the deadliest of superbugs, such as E. Coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii, colistin works by puncturing the two membranes encasing the bacteria. Though how it does this has been unclear.
Scientists knew that the drug can penetrate the outer membrane by zeroing in on a target chemical called lipopolysaccharide (LPS). The trouble was, there is very little of this chemical to be found in the inner membrane, raising questions over how colistin is able to find and punch its way through.