Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Polymer Stars Trump Antibiotic Resistance

Tiny star-shaped molecules are effective at killing bacteria that can no longer be killed by current antibiotics, according to a study published in Nature Microbiology.

“It is estimated that the rise of superbugs will cause up to ten million deaths a year by 2050, said Prof Greg Qiao of Melbourne University’s School of Engineering. “In addition, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years,” he said.

Qiao and his team have been working with short chains of proteins called peptide polymers. Recently, they created a star-shaped peptide polymer that was extremely effective at killing Gram-negative bacteria – a major class of bacteria that is adept at developing antibiotic resistance.

Furthermore, tests undertaken on red blood cells showed that the star-shaped polymer’s dosage would need to be increased more than 100-fold to become toxic.

The star-shaped peptide was also effective in killing superbugs when tested in animal models. Furthermore, superbugs showed no signs of resistance to it.

The team discovered that their star-shaped peptide polymers can kill bacteria via multiple pathways, unlike most antibiotics that kill with a single pathway. One of these pathways involves “ripping apart” the bacteria cell wall.

Qiao’s team believes that its numerous methods of killing bacteria accounts for the superior performance of the star-shaped peptide polymers over antibiotics.