New framework for understanding and combating antibiotic resistance

In a study that could offer further insights into antimicrobial resistance, researchers from the University of Sheffield have generated the first high-resolution images of the cell wall structure of bacteria.

Antimicrobial Resistance

Image Credit: Jarun Ontakrai/Shutterstock.com

The study has been published in the Nature journal and unravels a novel and unpredicted structure of the outer bacterial layers of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus.

The study outcomes offer a new context to understand the growth of bacteria and the way antibiotics work, overturning previous theories about the structure of the outer bacterial layers.

The images provide novel insight into the bacterial cell wall’s composition and offer new strategies to develop antibiotics to fight against antibiotic resistance. There are no other studies of the cell wall in any organism at the comparable resolution, down to the molecular scale.

Many antibiotics work by inhibiting the bacteria’s production of a cell wall, a strong but permeable skin around the bacteria which is critical for its survival. We still don’t understand how antibiotics like penicillin kill bacteria, but this isn’t surprising because until now we had remarkably little information about the actual organisation of the bacterial cell wall.”

Laia Pasquina Lemonche, PhD Researcher, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Sheffield

Lemonche added, “This study provides that essential stepping stone which we hope will lead to both a better understanding of how antibiotics work and to the future development of new approaches to combat antimicrobial resistance.”

The researchers employed a sophisticated microscopic method called Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), which involves using a sharp needle to identify the shape of a surface and construct images similar to a contour map, but at the scale of individual molecules.

It is by physicists and biologists working together that we’ve been able to make these breakthroughs in our understanding of the bacterial cell wall.”

Jamie Hobbs, Professor, Department of Physics, University of Sheffield

Currently, the researchers are employing the same techniques to gain insights into how antibiotics modify the architecture of the cell wall and also how those changes are important in antimicrobial resistance.

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