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New hope for antibiotic resistance crisis

Birkbeck researchers have uncovered a way that may help stop the spread of antibiotic resistance, in a move that could impact the lives of millions globally.

A hand holding a petri dish containing bacterial growth

Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally, but overuse and misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which threatens the ability to treat common infectious diseases.

The pioneering research, published in Nature by Birkbeck and UCL in collaboration with the University of Washington, showed, for the first time, the structure of the transport apparatus that enables the spread of antibiotic resistant genes between bacteria.

By understanding the way that bacteria exchange genes, scientists can discover ways to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistant genes or exploit the transport mechanism so it delivers beneficial genes into higher organisms.

Professor Gabriel Waksman, Professor of Structural Molecular Biology at Birkbeck and UCL, and the lead author of the study, said: “We are in a global crisis of antibiotic resistance, which threatens to overcome healthcare systems all over the world – the World Health Organisation describes antibiotic resistance ‘as one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today’.

“This research is critical in understanding how antibiotic resistance is spread among bacterial populations. Now we can visualise the structure of the transport apparatus, my research will focus on how the transport apparatus works to transfer genes.”

This research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, was published in Nature on 22 June 2022 and is freely available online here:


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