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Scientists ‘unmask’ superbug-shielding protein

Scientists from University of Western Australia have successfully mapped three-dimensional molecular structure of EptA protein that shields superbugs from antibiotics.

The EptA protein causes multi-drug resistance by masking bacteria from both the human immune system and important antibiotics.

Key Facts
  • The shape of protein was mapped using technique called X-ray crystallography which is mainly used for determining the atomic and molecular structure of a crystal.
  • The protein, EptA, allows some strains to shrug off colistin, a last antibiotic available in the world for treating infections when all other antibiotics fail.
  • Significance: This mapping is a breakthrough because it will allow development of a drug to prevent superbugs hiding from medication. Thus, it open door to combating the threat of antibiotic resistance and is considered as a huge step forward in the global fight against superbugs. 
Background

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), infections caused multi-drug resistant bacteria kills around 700,000 people each year. This figure is predicted to rise 10 million by 2050 justifying warnings of so-called antibiotic apocalypse which could be among the 21st Century’s greatest threats. A colistin-resistant strain of bacteria uncovered in 2015 is one of the grave concerns for health authorities. The spread of genes containing the colistan-resistant protein may make previously treatable bacterial infections untreatable.

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Milk from Tasmanian devils could fight superbugs: Study

Scientists from University of Sydney (Australia) have found that mother’s milk from marsupials (also known as Tasmanian devils) could help to deadly superbugs which resist antibiotics.

They have found that peptides in the marsupial’s milk killed resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant golden staph bacteria and enterococcus that is resistant to powerful antibiotic vancomycin.

Scientist are hopeful marsupial peptides could eventually be used to develop new antibiotics for humans to aid the battle against superbugs.

What are Superbugs?

Superbugs are deadly bacteria which cannot be treated by current antibiotics and other drugs. According to recent British study, Superbugs could kill up to 10 million people globally by 2050.

What Scientists have found?

  • Marsupials have more peptides than other mammals. It has six peptides whereas humans have only one of this type of peptide.
  • These peptides give underdeveloped young marsupials an immature immune system when they are born.
  • This natural immune system helps young marsupials to survive growth in their mother’s bacteria-filled pouch.
  • It should be noted that because of their biology, marsupials carry their young in a pouch after birth to complete their development.
  • Using marsupials peptides, scientists had artificially created the antimicrobial peptides called cathelicidins after extracting the sequence from the devil’s genome.
  • It was found that these artificially created the antimicrobial peptides killed the resistant bacteria and other bacteria.

About Tasmanian devil

  • The Tasmanian devil is a carnivorous marsupial belonging to the family Dasyuridae. They are endemic in the wild only in Tasmania, island state of Australia.
  • It is largest carnivorous marsupial in the world. It has stocky and muscular build, black fur, pungent odour, keen sense of smell and extremely loud and disturbing screech.
  • Its large head and neck allow it to generate strongest bites per unit body mass among any extant mammal land predator.

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