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Cambridge University Science Magazine

MDR tuberculosis infects 0.5 million people each year. MDR tuberculosis infects 0.5 million people each year.

MDR bacterial cells have transporters in their membranes that protect the cells by actively pumping out antibiotic drugs. One type of bacterial strain that has such a drug transporter is of the species Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can infect humans and causes severe illnesses including pneumonia and sepsis. In their study, the Yale scientists identified a virus called OMKO1 that specifically binds to the transporter of P. aeruginosa. Binding of the virus leads to its entry into the bacterial cell, which ultimately causes the cell’s death. This means that when OMKO1 attacks P. aeruginosa bacteria, it biases their evolution towards changing the structure of their drug transporter in order to prevent virus binding. Changes in structure however make the transporter less efficient at pumping out drugs. Therefore, the bacteria become more sensitive to antibiotics. Importantly, OMKO1 is a virus of the subfamily of bacteriophages, which only target bacteria and are harmless to humans.

The prospect of once more living in a world where people everywhere die from illnesses which today’s citizens of industrialized countries think of as relatively trifling, such as pneumonia, is indeed a scary one. The findings of this new study raise hope that in the future it will be possible to use bacteriophages that bind to bacterial drug transporters as a therapeutic approach. In combination with traditional antibiotic drugs, they may enable us to combat and contain antibiotic-resistant infections.

The full open-access paper can be read here: doi:10.1038/srep26717

Image by NIAID CC BY2.0

Written by Janina Ander