These special, star-shaped molecules are effective against antibiotic-resistant superbugs


As part of a new research, scientists have come up with an innovative way of killing superbugs, in the form of tiny, star-shaped polymers. Recently published in the Nature Microbiology journal, the study reveals a new treatment technique against disease-causing bacteria that are resistant to today’s antibiotics. The research was conducted by a team from the University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering.

According to the researchers, the special molecules are made up with protein chains known as “peptide polymers”. At present, antibiotics are the only available treatment against bacterial infections. These pesky microbes are known to mutate over time, as a way of surviving the attacks of antibiotics. These mutated pathogens are in turn called “superbugs”. Greg Qiao, a professor at the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering, said:

 It is estimated that the rise of superbugs will cause up to ten million deaths a year by 2050. In addition, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years.


The current study is the result of several years of research on the structures and functions of peptide polymers. The team has developed a special, star-shaped molecule that is capable of annihilating Gram-negative bacteria, which form a major class of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. What’s more, the polymer is completely safe and non-toxic to the patient’s body.

During laboratory tests on red blood cells, the scientists found that the molecule has to be administered in doses up to 100 times greater for it to turn toxic. As pointed out by the team, these star-shaped polymers are just as effective at killing disease-causing bacteria in animals as in case of humans.

So far, superbugs have not developed any kind of resistance against the newly-created peptide polymers. Unlike currently-available antibiotics that usually destroy bacteria in only one way, these star-shaped molecules are capable of killing infection-spreading superbugs in a variety of ways. One such approach involves ‘ripping apart’ the microbes’ cellular walls.

Source: The Melbourne Newsroom (University of Melbourne)

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