Scientists have found a way of tricking bacteria into turning against themselves, potentially opening the way for better treatments.

They found that bacteria employs toxins to hijack or kill host cells, having developed ways to protect themselves from their own toxins.

They worked out the structures of a toxin and its antitoxin in Streptococcus pyogenes, a common bug that cause infections ranging from strep throat to rheumatic fever, a life threatening condition, the journal Structure reports.

“Strep (tococcus) has to express this antidote, so to speak,” says Craig L. Smith, postdoctoral researcher and study author at the Washington University School of Medicine. “If there were no antitoxin, the bacteria would kill itself.”

With that in mind, Smith and colleagues may have found a way to make the antitoxin inactive. They discovered that when the antitoxin is not bound, it changes shape, opening the way to more effective treatments, according to a Washington University statement.

“That’s the Achilles’ heel that we would like to exploit,” says Thomas E. Ellenberger, professor and head of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Washington University School of Medicine.

Many types of bacteria have evolved this toxin-antitoxin method of attacking host cells while protecting themselves.

Keywords: bacteria

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