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Credit: Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Credit: Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

HKUST paves way for antibiotics against superbugs with antibiotics resistance mechanism discovery

According to a recent press release, researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) have identified the mechanism behind broad-spectrum bacterial resistance to peptide antibiotics.

The team of researchers are led by Professor Qian Pei-Yuan, Chair Professor from the Division of Life Science. Prof Qian is also David von Hansemann Professor of Science and Acting Head of the Department of Ocean Science at HKUST.

This discovery opens a new direction to the design of new drugs in tackling superbugs, as peptide antibiotics is widely perceived as the last-line of defense against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Peptide antibiotics – including vancomycin and polymyxin for respective treatment of Staphylococcus Aureus (CA-MRSA) Infection and Escherichia coil infection, are often used as the last resort due to their resilience to multidrug resistant bacteria. 

However, a few years ago, scientists have started identifying a few types of peptide antibiotics which have developed symptoms of bacterial resistance, although the causes behind such phenomenon remained unknown. 

Now, following the analysis of over 6,000 bacteria genomes under repeated validation through gene editing, chemical and enzymatic analyses, Prof Qian’s team eventually identified a family of D-stereospecific resistance peptidases (DRPs) as the source of the problem, and its magnitude extends well beyond a few strains of bacteria.

The team also discovered that the DRPs enzyme, which they identified as the cause of broad-spectrum bacteria resistance against peptide antibiotics, is found in not just a few, but many different strains of bacteria, sounding an alarm against persistent improper use of antibiotics.

“DRPs are phylogenetically widely distributed in nature, if they are transferred to opportunistic pathogens with human’s increasing misuse and overuse of antibiotics, more and more peptide antibiotics would be rendered useless, leading to delay or even failure in treatment,” said Prof Qian.

According to Prof Qian, misuse and overuse of antibiotics of humans will intensify the problem of antibiotic resistance of pathogens, that makes research on peptide antibiotics even more important.

“Deepening our understanding of antibiotic resistance mechanisms to peptide antibiotics does not only serve as a wake-up call but is also conducive to increasing our collective antibiotic arsenal. The findings of DRPs is just the beginning, we hope it will lead to more research on the use and development of peptide antibiotics,” he added

The findings of Prof Qian and his fellow researchers were recently published in the scientific journal Nature Chemical Biology.

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