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Scientists get up close to bacteria's toxic pumps

The spread of antibiotic resistance among bacteria is a growing problem, making certain diseases increasingly difficult to treat. New strategies for attacking the bacteria are needed, yet virtually no novel-mechanism antibiotics are currently in development.

Gram-negative bacteria - such as those that cause stomach ulcers and a number of other serious diseases - are particularly difficult to attack as they have a double wall, incorporating an outer membrane surrounding the bacterial cell wall, which interferes with drug penetration.

Research funded by Wellcome Trust scientists is building up a clearer picture of how Gram-negative bacteria infect the host's cells - and how they spread antibiotic resistance.

Professor Gabriel Waksman and colleagues at the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology at Birkbeck and UCL (University College London) are studying 'type IV secretion systems', cellular 'nanodevices' that behave like pumps. These tiny machines span across the double membrane of the bacteria, pumping toxins out into host cells and antibiotic resistance genes into antibiotic-sensitive bacteria. This pump may offer a chink in the armour of Gram-negative bacteria for novel antibiotics to exploit.

(editor's note - this story comes from a press release from a biomedical trust in the UK)

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