McMaster researchers find superbug 'CPU'

McMaster University researchers have found a mechanism in antibiotic-resistant superbugs that determines their virulence.

New hope for weapon against MRSA

Researchers at McMaster University have discovered a controlling mechanism in bacteria that can make superbug infections so dangerous.

The team found that a chemical made by Staphylococcus aureus and its dreaded drug-resistant strains — known as MRSA — determines how virulent and infectious the pathogen becomes.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, in a scanning electron microscope image.

The chemical acts like the central processing unit of a computer. When Staph bacteria are deprived of these chemicals, the virulence collapses, making the bacteria non-infectious.

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a strain of Staph that has become resistant to most types of antibiotics.

The superbug is most often seen in hospitals but can occur in the wider community. It's not usually harmful to healthy people, but people with long-term illnesses or who have compromised immune systems are at risk.

MRSA usually causes skin infections, but can lead to pneumonia and post-operative infections, as well as bacterial sepsis, toxic shock syndrome, scarlet fever and flesh-eating disease.

Co-ordinated attacks

Researchers were able to see how superbugs co-ordinated their attacks on human immune systems by laying bare the molecular wiring associated with the formation of these "pathogen small molecule CPUs."

Scientists then shut down the synthesis of the controlling chemical, making the bacteria unable to burst open red blood cells.

The study's findings raise the prospect that new ways of disabling superbugs could be crafted. Scientists are already looking into that.   

The research, published in the latest issue of Science, is the work of the Magarvey lab at McMaster's Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences and the M.G. Degroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research.

The McMaster scientists collaborated with researchers at the University of Western Ontario and the University of Nebraska.