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Customized active ingredients beat hospital germs

International research group from Hamburg presents new approach for battling antimicrobial resistance in "Scientific Reports"

Researchers at DESY in Hamburg and their colleagues in Brazil and China have developed a promising approach for beating antimicrobial resistant hospital germs using x-ray light sources. The scientists are intervening in a cycle of metabolism, which is vital for the pathogen instead of directly attacking MRSA bacteria. That means the bacteria produce a useless variant of Vitamin B1 and the pathogen dies without functioning Vitamin B1. The team, led by Prof. Christian Betzel at the University of Hamburg and Prof. Carsten Wrenger from the University of Sao Paulo, have presented their work in “Scientific Reports”.

MRSA infections not limited to health facilities

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing health problem. More and more bacterial strains are becoming resistant to certain antibiotics – they learn to expect attacks and become immune to them. The so-called Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are often resistant to all common antibiotics and can only be fought with emergency and reserve substances. MRSA initially occurred only in hospitals, but are now being found elsewhere.

“Feeding” useful substance

During their search for resistant germs, Betzel and Wrenger’s team ventured down a new path. “Classic substances block a particular function of the bacteria”, said Betzel adding, “Then the bacteria develops a way around the blockade and becomes resistant to the active substance.” The researchers intervene in the Vitamin B1 cycle of the staphylococci without blocking them. The bacteria itself must produce the vitamin needed to survive. Scientists at the Hamburg Outstation of the European Laboratory for Molecular Biology (EMBL) at DESY have determined the atomic structuring of the enzyme involved in the process. Then they “fed” the enzyme a customized, apparently useless substance. However, this altered substrate differs slightly from the natural variant meaning a useless type of the vitamin emerges. Bethel explained: “We literally put a piece of chocolate beside a piece of dry bread. That works only when you know exactly the atomic structure of the specific enzyme.”

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