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Soon, a drill to dismantle bacteria from within

Posted on Mar 18 2014 | IANS

New York, March 18 : Imagine tiny drills that can puncture deadly bacteria or 'superbugs' that are anti-biotic resistant and send millions to hospitals worldwide.

Scientists are now building tiny 'molecular drill bits' that kill bacteria by bursting through their protective cell walls.

In humans and animals, naturally occurring, short strings of amino acids called antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) fight against drug-resistant pathogens.

Researchers have already identified nearly 1,000 unique AMPs from many sources, including fly larvae, frog skin and mammalian immune system cells.

The molecules come in different shapes, lengths and with other varying traits.

"If the bacteria build resistance to all current treatments, you are dead in the water," said Georges Belfort from New York-based Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).

When Belfort found out about AMPs' mode of action, he aptly dubbed them 'molecular drill bits'.

Belfort discovered a database filtering technique developed by another group of researchers in 2012.

Using the database filtering technology, Belfort's lab designed and synthesised three novel AMPs designed to drill into the thick walls of tuberculosis (TB) cells.

When they tested them in the lab against Mycobacterium tuberculosis and another similar bacteria, all three AMPs killed the bacteria.

In ongoing research, Belfort's group together with his wife Marlene Belfort and her group at University at Albany are trying to dismantle bacteria from within.

They also decided to attack it from the outside.

The group is also developing a laboratory test that would allow them to tell within hours rather than weeks if an AMP is working against Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

If developed into pharmaceuticals, AMPs could have the additional benefit of overcoming the very challenge they are designed to meet: drug-resistance.

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