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New rules for cellular entry may aid antibiotic development

Tests show clues to fighting drug-resistant gram-negative bacteria

1:00pm, May 10, 2017

MAKE WAY  An antimicrobial (mostly green and white in this illustration) that has been modified to target gram-negative bacteria travels through a channel (brown) on its way inside an E. coli cell.

Like entry to an exclusive nightclub, getting inside a gram-negative bacterial cell is no easy feat for chemical compounds. But now a secret handshake has been revealed: A new study lays out several rules to successfully cross the cells’ fortified exteriors, which could lead to the development of sorely needed antibiotics.

“It’s a breakthrough,” says microbiologist Kim Lewis of Northeastern University in Boston, who was not involved with the work. The traditional way to learn how compounds get across the bacterial barrier is to study the barrier, he says. “They decided to attack the problem from the other end: What are the properties of the molecules that may allow them to penetrate across the barrier?” The work describing these properties is published online in Nature on May 10.

Escherichia coli and other gram-negative bacteria — so

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