Some species of bacteria are stripping off their outer layers in an attempt to evade antibiotics and survive. It’s a reality that could explain why some infections keep coming back.
According to researchers at Newcastle University in the UK, the bacteria are “undressing” and removing their cell walls – the very part of them that some antibiotics target.
The cell walls of some bacteria are made from sugars and amino acids. While they give the bacteria shape and protection, these walls provide a weak spot that can be exploited by antibiotics. Penicillin, the first antibiotic to be discovered and the most widely used in the world, works by disrupting the cell wall and causing the bacteria to burst.
The study, which is published in the journal Nature Communications, found that bacteria associated with recurring urinary tract infections in elderly patients slipped out of their cell walls to avoid the effect of the antibiotics.
It’s the first time that research has shown bacteria using this method to survive antibiotic treatment and while not all survive – most get taken care of by the body’s immune system - it does offer some explanation as to why certain infections come back again and again.
The discovery could pave the way for new treatments to be developed, including combination therapies that target both the bacteria’s cell wall and inner workings.