Scientists can shut down a superbug's CPU

McMaster University researchers figure out how to stop superbugs from launching their potentially fatal attack. By identifying a chemical responsible for the bug's strength, the researchers were able prevent the pathogen from spreading the bacterial infection.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor on

When antibiotics can't kill certain strains of bacteria, the pathogens become more infectious and dangerous. No doubt, these superbugs are worrisome. When the bug attacks, it can eat your flesh and even kill you.

That's extreme, but superbugs are a growing health problem.

Canadian researchers think of bacteria like a computer. McMaster University researchers have figured out how to render Staphylococcus aureus and its drug-resistant forms harmless.

The scientists have identified a chemical that can shut down the bug's CPU.

By stopping the chemical from synthesizing, the researchers figured out how to prevent the superbug from infecting other red blood cells.

According to McMaster University:

"We've found that when these small chemicals in the bacteria are shut down, the bacteria is rendered non-functional and non-infectious," said Nathan Magarvey, principal investigator for the study and an assistant professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences at McMaster. "We're now set on hacking into this pathogen and making its system crash."

The discovery was published in Science — and is worth noting because it offers a new way to fight this virulent bacteria.

The antibiotic-resistant form of S. aureus is called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) — and has become a wide-spread problem in hospitals around the world. Each year, there are 19,000 MRSA-associated deaths in the United States alone.

Other strains of MRSA have made their way into the community including the superbug USA300 that has entered athletic locker rooms and community-associated MRSA that is common in places where people share close living quarters.

U.S. News & World Report reported that "MRSA may be the most frightening epidemic since AIDS, and it's already in our homes and schools in our communities." In it, Superbug author Maryn McKenna said:

Before antibiotics were invented in the 1940s, infections used to be the leading cause of death. The scary thing is that now we're moving to a post-antibiotic era. They try drug after drug [to treat resistant bacteria like MRSA], and in some cases there's no antibiotic that works.

Photo: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/ flickr

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