The ability of infectious bacteria to form biofilms - which are responsible for two thirds of human infections - makes them particularly difficult to treat. And when these bacteria are also resistant to antibiotics, the medical challenge is even tougher. Now, researchers in Canada have discovered that a small molecule could help prevent bacteria from forming biofilms.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver found that the small anti-biofilm molecule - a peptide known as 1018 - works on a range of bacteria including many that cannot be treated by antibiotics.
They report their findings in the journal PLOS Pathogens.
"Our entire arsenal of antibiotics is gradually losing effectiveness," says lead author Bob Hancock, a professor in the department of Microbiology and Immunology at UBC, referring to the severe threat to global health posed by antibiotic-resistant organisms.
Biofilms are highly structured communities of bacteria that can form on living surfaces such as human tissue - including skin, lung and heart - and non-living surfaces, such as medical devices. The authors note they are responsible for at least 65% of all human infections.
In their study, Prof. Hancock and colleagues show how the peptide 1018 - comprising just 12 amino acids, the building blocks of proteins - was able to destroy biofilms and prevent them from forming.
Bacteria are generally classed as either Gram-positive or Gram-negative, depending on their cell wall structure. The different classes are susceptible to different types of antibiotic.
The peptide destroyed biofilms of several major drug-resistant bacteria
Peptide 1018 was able to destroy biofilms for several types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as E. coli.
The study shows 1018 destroyed biofilms of both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, including several major antibiotic-resistant forms, such as MRSA, E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a pathogen that mostly affects people with weakened immune systems.
"Antibiotics are the most successful medicine on the planet," comments Prof. Hancock, explaining that, "The lack of effective antibiotics would lead to profound difficulties with major surgeries, some chemotherapy treatments, transplants, and even minor injuries."
He and his colleagues conclude that their findings represent "a significant advance in the search for new agents that specifically target bacterial biofilms."
Meanwhile, Medical News Today also reported another study that suggests studying drug resistance in soil bacteria may help defeat superbugs. Researchers have discovered that while soil bacteria harbor many drug-resistant genes, unlike infectious bacteria, they do not share them easily because the resistance genes sit far away from "mobility elements" in the bacterial DNA, a feature that may yield valuable clues for tackling superbugs.