December 16, 2008

New method of killing bacteria is created

U.S. scientists say they have developed a method of fooling a bacterium's evolutionary machinery into programming its own death.

Researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst said their achievement shows a synthetic hole punching anti-microbial depends upon the presence of phosphoethanolamine -- a cone-shaped lipid found within Gram-negative bacterial membranes.

The basic idea is for an antimicrobial to target something in a bacteria that, in order to gain immunity, would require the bacteria to kill itself through a suicide mutation, said UI Professor Gerard Wong, corresponding author of the study.

It's a Catch-22, he added. Some mutations bacteria can tolerate, and some mutations they cannot tolerate. In this case, the bacteria would have to go through a mutation that would kill it, in order to be immune to these anti-microbials. The anti-microbial reorganizes PE lipids into holes in the membrane; the perforated membranes leak, and the bacteria die.

The study that included graduate student and lead author Lihua Yang, as well as Professors Dallas Trinkle, John Cronan Jr. and Gregory Tew has been accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is currently available on the journal's Web site.