A crucial and previously unidentified mechanism by which many bacteria withstand antibiotics has been uncovered by researchers.
With the help of computation and physical observation in the lab, researchers have found out how some common bacteria protect themselves from the rifamycin class of antibiotics, which are found in nature and are also made in labs to treat infectious diseases.
Rifamycins kill bacteria by binding to RNA polymerase, which is a protein that bacteria need to live.
The antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which are common in the environment and in some human pathogens, have made a protein that can remove the antibiotic from RNA polymerase. After the rifamycin has been dislodged, they employ proteins that have been specifically modified to attack and destroy it.
“What we’ve discovered is a brand-new trick up the sleeves of bacteria to evade this class of antibiotics,” says researcher Gerry Wright. “It’s like a one-two punch. It’s fascinating and it’s so crafty.”
The finding demonstrates that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) mechanisms are more intricate and highly evolved than previously thought.
Wright and his colleagues are currently searching through their database of tens of thousands of samples to determine if other bacteria use parallel processes and if they indicate any weaknesses that could be used to develop new antibiotics that are desperately needed.
In a study posted online today in the prestigious journal Molecular Cell, their work is discussed. Matthew Surette, Kalinka Koteva, and Nicholas Waglechner are Wright’s co-authors.
Wright claims that the finding has given him a greater appreciation for how adaptable nature is and has reignited his interest in uncovering and disclosing further strategies bacteria employ to secure their survival.
“We’ve been facing this AMR problem for many years,” Wright adds. “Every time we think we’ve figured out all the ways bacteria resist antibiotics, along comes something like this, to let us know there are tricks we hadn’t even thought of before.”
According to Wright, AMR is a significant and expanding worldwide health threat that demands much more attention and research funding.
The majority of pharmaceutical corporations are not actively working on generating new antibiotics, despite the fact that the efficacy of penicillin, rifamycin, and other well-established antibiotic therapies is rapidly declining.
Wright says that making new drugs is a very expensive process, and that antibiotics would not be a good investment because they don’t bring in as much money as prescription drugs that people take for years at a time.
According to Wright, the harm posed by AMR to the public’s health is simply too great to be disregarded, and governments, academic institutions, and manufacturers must work together.
“We have to keep reminding people just how tricky these bugs are. We’ve all been focused on COVID these past two and half years, but AMR is still an enormous problem and these bacteria have continued to innovate and diversify their mechanisms of resistance,” he adds. “We have to keep working to make sure we really do understand the enemy.”
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