Superbug structure deciphered

2011-09-06 12:01

London - Scientists have deciphered the structure of NDM-1, a vicious form of bacteria resistant to even the most powerful class of antibiotics, and built a model to help drug researchers in the hunt for more effective medicines.

In a study published on Tuesday, researchers from the Medical Research Council's (MRC) research complex at Harwell, central England, said the discovery of the structure of NDM-1 - or New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1 - was a crucial step in understanding how it worked and finding new ways to fight it.

NDM-1 makes bacteria resistant to almost all antibiotics, including the most powerful class, carbapenems. It emerged in India more than three years ago and has spread across the world.

The enzyme has the ability to break up, or hydrolyse, an antibiotic and make it ineffective. It has been found in a wide variety of bugs, including familiar pathogens such as Escherichia coli, or E coli.


"NDM-1 is a serious threat to human health. The enzyme it carries is able to degrade many forms of antibiotic and render them useless," Simon Phillips, director of the research complex, said in his study.

"In addition, the gene for NDM-1 can be passed between different bacteria so can spread rapidly in the population and generate drug resistance in different diseases."

His findings were published in the online journal Acta Crystallographica Section F: Structural Biology and Crystallisation Communications.

In recent years, there has been growing concern that the usefulness of antibiotics could be coming to an end as the bacteria that cause disease become increasingly resistant to these drugs.

More than 25 000 people in the EU die every year from bacterial infections able to outsmart even the newest and most powerful antibiotics.

No new drugs are on the horizon to tackle NDM-1 for at least five or six years, and some scientists are concerned that only a few major drug companies, such as Pfizer , Merck , GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca , have strong antibiotic drug development programmes.

"Identifying the structure of NDM-1 is a crucial step toward ensuring drug development is based on a sound understanding of the mechanisms of bacterial resistance to antibiotics," said Sharon Peacock, a member of MRC's infections and immunity board.

Read more on:    health  |  research  |  superbugs

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


'Zuma's legacy will be judged by Nkandla'

The legacy of President Jacob Zuma is contingent on how he deals with the issue of upgrades to his Nkandla homestead, says Cape Town Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.


Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now! - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Canon EOS 600D

The Canon EOS 600D Digital Camera puts the widely respected...

From R5389.95

I'm shopping for:


Self-indulgence may be strong today. You may want to enjoy yourself to the fullest and share it with those that make you more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.