Superbug MRSA uses decoys to evade our last line of antibiotics

Superbugs are bacteria that have developed resistance to the killing action of our best antibiotics. Becoming ill with an infection from one of these bugs usually means a lengthy stay in the intensive care unit so you can be monitored and treated with last resort antibiotics. Patients lives are at risk when these final antibiotics fail. Antibiotic resistance has been on the rise in large part due to excessive use oin agriculture, cleaning products, and over prescription. Antibiotics are an essential medication for fighting life threatening infections but they will not continue to work if we abuse them. Unfortunately, one superbug called MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) has now shown resistance to our last line of treatments, called daptomycin. Understanding how the bacteria was able to develop this resistance is paramount in allowing us to continue the fight against it. Luckily, a group of researchers from London have identified the clever trick MRSA uses to inactivate daptomycin.

There are many different mechanisms a bacterium can evolve in order to evade antibiotics. These can include making enzyme to break the drug down, changing the shape of a protein so that the drug can not longer recognize it, developing a way to survive without a nutrient that the antibiotic may make toxic, or developing a way to pump the drug out of the cell. Researchers and bacteria are caught in an evolutionary arms race. Well now MRSA has brought a new weapon to the fight for antibiotic resistance. These bacteria have developed a way to release small fat/lipid droplets into their surroundings that act like decoys for the daptomycin. These small lipid droplets are made of the same material that the bacterium’s cell membrane and so it acts to trick the drug into attacking it. It is quite ingenious really, the lipid droplets are acting like flares used in aerial combat to confuse enemy weaponry. The good news is the researchers were able to identify how the bacterium is making these decoys and have successfully turned off the process enabling daptomycin to become effective again, potentially opening the door for co-treatments to make antibiotics effective again.

Antibiotic resistance is a huge problem that we all need to help tackle. New antibiotics are not being developed at the same rate as they once were and we are running out of options for treating resistant infections. We need to stop using antibiotics in our daily cleaning products, reduce their use in agriculture, and stop abusing them in the clinical setting.

Photo Credit: Flickr Defence Images 

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