Washington: In the war against superbugs, researchers have discovered a protein that can kill bacteria and can serve as a powerful antibiotic in the future.
The isolation of this protein, produced by a virus that attacks bacteria, is a major step toward developing a substitute for conventional antibiotics.
Bacteriophages, often referred to as "phages," are viruses that infect and replicate in bacteria. Because they coevolved with bacteria, they are optimized to kill them. As proof of their endurance, phages are the most common life form on earth, outnumbering bacteria 10 to one.
"Ever since the discovery of bacteriophages in the early 20th century, scientists have understood that, on the principle of the 'enemy of my enemy is my friend,' medical use could be made of phages to fight viruses," lead researcher Dr. Udi Qimron of Tel Aviv University's Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, said.
Dr. Qimron and his colleagues set out to understand how all 56 proteins found in T7, a particularly virulent phage that infects Escherichia coli bacteria, contribute to its functioning.
They discovered that one of the proteins, called 0.4, impedes cell division in E. coli, causing the cells of the bacteria to elongate and then die. The protein is common to many bacteria and a similar process occurs in all bacteria, so the finding may have wide application.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.