Antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA have proven a challenge to treat, and researchers are looking for new ways to get around, control, or drug these bugs. Scientific American's Katherine Harmon says the answer to the problem may be within the bugs themselves. Two papers recently published in Science show how a certain class of bacteria elude antibiotics using the same mechanisms that help them deal with environmental stress, Harmon says. The researchers say that exploiting those traits in the bugs could aid in making existing antibiotics more effective.
One of the recent studies, done by New York University researchers, shows that bacteria protect themselves against oxidative stress — which many antibiotics induce — by producing hydrogen sulfide and combining it with nitric acid to fight off drugs. The team found the three enzymes responsible for hydrogen sulfide production in S. aureus, E. coli, and other bacteria, Harmon says. The second paper, by researchers at McGill University, shows that bacteria deprived of nutrients more actively defend themselves against attack by drugs than well-fed bacteria, Harmon says. Both teams say their discoveries could be used to improve existing drugs, either by disrupting the enzymes that create hydrogen sulfide or by disrupting the response of nutrient-deprived bacteria to attack.