Monash researchers discover key to
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superbug antibiotic resistance Deaths from antimicrobial resistance could rise to 10 million by 2050, surpassing the total deaths caused by cancer and diabetes combined, according to the World Health Organization. This has prompted the WHO to issue a warning about the need to urgently develop new antibiotics to counter the growing threat of superbugs.
uperbugs are bacteria that are resistant
to commonly used antibiotics, presenting a global
Researchers used the latest-generation electron microscopes at the Monash Ramaciotti Centre for
said Monash BDI scientist and lead researcher Dr Matthew Belousoff.
Electron Microscopy to image at the molecular
“The bacteria mutates or evolves to change
level — for the first time — the changes that take
the shape of the molecule to which the antibiotic
place in superbugs that have become resistant to
would bind so the drug can no longer fit there,” Dr
the most modern antibiotics.
health threat. To tackle this global challenge,
Examining bacterial samples of antibiotic-
“Knowing what your enemy is doing is the first
researchers from Monash’s Biomedicine Discovery
resistant Staphylococcus aureus or ‘Golden Staph’
step to the next phase of new drug design,” he said.
Institute (BDI) collaborated with Israel’s Weizmann
taken from a hospital patient, they compared data
“We’ve developed a technique that others can
Institute of Science and the NTU Institute of
of a non-resistant strain with their counterparts
use that might help us speed up the arms race of
Structural Biology in Singapore. The researchers
overseas. These included Shashi Bhushan from
have now discovered the molecular mechanism
NTU and Zohar Eyal and Nobel Laureate Professor
Dr Belousoff said Monash BDI researchers
by which the potentially deadly superbug ‘Golden
Ada Yonath from the Weizmann Institute who won
are now using this new tool to investigate other
Staph’ evades antibiotic treatment, providing the
the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2009.
drug-resistant bacteria. The research, involving
first important clues on how to counter superbug antibiotic resistance. Their findings have been published in the journal mBio.
18 | LAB+LIFE SCIENTIST - Jun/Jul 2017
“Using the combined data we could rationalise
the expertise of Monash microscopist Dr Mazdak
how the bacteria escapes drug treatment by a really
Radjainia and mentoring of Professor Trevor
important hospital antibiotic and describe in
Lithgow, was supported by the Australian National
molecular detail how it becomes like a superbug,”
Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
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