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A team of researchers at Yale University engineered small molecules to allow them to be recognized by an enzyme responsible for identifying and attaching proteins to the bacterium's cell wall. ((iStock))

Scientists have managed to alter the cell wall of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria to "trick" them into accepting small molecules and embedding them.

The development could lead to ways of combating staph infections that can cause pneumonia and a wide range of skin infections. A dangerous antibiotic-resistant form of the bacteria, called methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus or MRSA, currently plagues many hospitals in Canada.

MRSA killed approximately 2,300 people in Canada in 2006, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

A team of researchers at Yale University engineered small molecules of biotin, fluorescein and azide to allow them to be recognized by an enzyme in the bacterium. That enzyme, sortase A, is responsible for identifying and attaching proteins to the bacterium's cell wall.

"We sort of tricked the bacteria into incorporating something into its cell wall that it didn't actually make," said David Spiegel, a Yale chemist who led the study, in a release. "It's as if the cell thought the molecules were its own proteins rather than recognizing them as something foreign."

"By being able to manipulate the cell wall, we can in theory perturb the bacteria's ability to interact with human tissues and host cells."

The scientists point out that the bacteria did not have to be genetically modified to accept the foreign molecules, meaning the technique could make fighting Staphylococcus aureus within the body easier.

The study is published in the Oct. 7 issue of the journal ACS Chemical Biology.