Scientists discover protein that kills bacteria

Scientists discovered a protein that attacks bacteria, which could serve as a substitute for conventional antibiotics, according to a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Israeli and American scientists isolated the protein, which is produced by a bacteriophage, a virus that attacks bacteria. The researchers set out to understand how all 56 proteins found in T7, a virulent phage that infects E. coli bacteria, contribute to the functioning of the virus. One of the proteins, called 0.4, keeps E. coli cells from dividing, causing the bacteria's cells to elongate and die.

"To stay ahead of bacterial resistance, we have to keep developing new antibiotics," Udi Qimron, one of the study's lead authors, said. "What we found is a small protein that could serve as a powerful antibiotic in the future."

Bacteriophage preparations are not approved in Western medicine for treating systemic bacterial infections. One reason is the phages' inability to effectively penetrate body tissues due to filtering from the bloodstream.

Because the 0.4 protein is much smaller than an entire phage, it may be more equipped to penetrate tissue and kill bacteria.

Qimron said the major challenge for pharmaceutical companies will be to figure out how to deliver 0.4 as a drug. In the meantime, the researchers will continue to hunt for other bacteria-killing proteins.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University and Duke University contributed to the research.