Bacteria can be hardy little creatures, thanks mostly to their strong cell walls that can protect them against drugs, viruses and other dangers. Finding ways to disarm these defenses is a key component of antibiotics, and now researchers at Harvard Medical School have identified a structural weakness that seems to be built into a range of bacterial species, potentially paving the way for a new class of widely-effective antibacterial drugs.
The new study builds on previous research into a protein named RodA. While the protein itself has long been known, in 2016 the Harvard team was the first to discover that it builds the protective cell walls of bacteria out of sugar molecules and amino acids. Since RodA belongs to the SEDS family of proteins, which is common to almost all bacteria, the team realized it was the perfect target for a far-reaching antibiotic. And on closer examination of RodA, the researchers spotted a vulnerable looking cavity on the outer surface of the protein.
“What makes us excited is that this protein has a fairly discrete pocket that looks like it could be easily and effectively targeted with a drug that binds to it and interferes with the protein’s ability to do its job,” says David Rudner, co-senior author of the study.