Bacteria are quickly evolving resistances to antibiotics, to the extent that our best drugs might not work in the terrifyingly-near future. Scientists are hard at work developing new antibiotics, or finding ways to make existing ones more effective. Now, researchers from Thomas Jefferson University have found a new way to weaken bacterial defenses, slowing down the development of antibiotic resistance.
The team is targeting gram-negative bacteria, a class of bugs that includes famous faces like E. coli and Salmonella. These organisms can be tricky to kill, thanks to their two-pronged defense systems – their double-layered cell membranes do a better job of keeping antibiotics at bay, and if any drug particles do make it through, they can pump them back out.
But the Jefferson team discovered a way to disable both defenses at once. The key lies in transfer RNA (tRNA) molecules, which play a part in building proteins vital for cell function. In earlier work, the researchers discovered that depriving tRNAs of a particular chemical group caused them to make more errors when building certain proteins. Those proteins, it turns out, help stabilize cell membranes and keep those toxin pumps working – so messing with them could weaken bacterial defenses.