Bacteria-killing dispute casts doubt on antibiotic development

Antibiotic drugs are one of the cornerstones of modern medicine, but, surprisingly, scientists still don’t understand all of the ways in which they work. So when biomedical engineer James Collins and his team at Boston University announced several years back that they had discovered a common mechanism of cell death underlying all major classes of antibiotics—and that the pathway could be used to combat resistance, an increasingly growing problem—the report generated a lot of excitement. It even spawned a new company, called EnBiotix, which aims to develop antibiotic ‘adjuvants’—agents designed to weaken the defenses of superbugs and resensitize them to existing antimicrobials.

But in recent months, several different researchers have tested Collins’s idea and found it wanting. “When you look at bacteria killed by different antibiotics, it’s hard to believe there is a common mechanism,” says Frédéric Barras, a bacterial geneticist at Aix-Marseille University in France. Read more in Nature Medicine.