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How penicillin kills bacteria finally discovered

“Our findings get to the heart of understanding how existing antibiotics work and give us new avenues for further treatment developments in the face of the global pandemic of antimicrobial resistance.”

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By Joe Morgan via SWNS

The way penicillin kills bacteria has finally been discovered by scientists.

Since its discovery by Alexander Fleming over 80 years ago, and have saved over 200 million lives, the mechanism of how the antibiotic actually works was still unknown.

While it was understood that antibiotics work by preventing cell wall growth, researchers have now discovered exactly how they kill bacteria and plan to exploit this knowledge to create new drugs to combat antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

via GIPHY

Both the NHS and health organizations across the world are trying to reduce the use of antibiotics, especially for health problems that are not serious.

Overuse of antibiotics means they are less effective and has led to the emergence of superbugs like MRSA and the bacteria that can cause drug-resistant tuberculosis.

An international team, led by University of Sheffield scientists, discovered penicillin creates holes in the cell wall which enlarge as the cell grows, eventually killing the bacteria.

The growth of these holes leads to failure of the cell wall and death of the bacteria, something which the scientists now plan to exploit in order to create new therapeutics for antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Professor Simon Foster, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Biosciences, said: “Penicillin and other antibiotics in its class have been a centerpiece of human healthcare for over 80 years and have saved over 200 million lives.

"However, their use is severely threatened by the global spread of antimicrobial resistance.

“Concentrating on the superbug MRSA, our research revealed that the antibiotics lead to the formation of small holes that span the cell wall that gradually enlarge as part of growth-associated processes, eventually killing the bacteria.

"We also identified some of the enzymes that are involved in making the holes.

“Our findings get to the heart of understanding how existing antibiotics work and give us new avenues for further treatment developments in the face of the global pandemic of antimicrobial resistance.”

Using this knowledge and an understanding of how the enzymes are controlled, the scientists also showed the efficacy of a novel combination therapy against S. aureus.

The team worked with a simple model for how the bacterial cell wall expands during growth and division and established a hypothesis for what happens when this is inhibited by antibiotics like penicillin.

The predictions of the model were tested using a combination of molecular approaches, including high-resolution atomic force microscopy.

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