TEL AVIV, Israel, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- The discovery of a protein that kills bacteria may help combat "superbugs" that have developed resistance to conventional antibiotics, Israeli researchers say.
The isolation of this protein, produced by a virus that attacks bacteria, is a major step toward developing a substitute for conventional antibiotics, scientists at Tel Aviv University reported Monday.
"To stay ahead of bacterial resistance, we have to keep developing new antibiotics," said Udi Qimron of the university's Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology. "What we found is a small protein that could serve as a powerful antibiotic in the future."
The researchers studied proteins in bacteriophages, often referred to as "phages," viruses that infect and replicate in bacteria, eventually killing the bacteria.
They focused on the proteins produced by T7, a particularly virulent phage that infects E. coli bacteria.
"Ever since the discovery of bacteriophages in the early 20th century, scientists have understood that, on the principle of the 'enemy of my enemy is my friend,' medical use could be made of phages to fight viruses," Qimron said.
The major challenge for pharmaceutical companies will be figuring out how exactly to deliver the protein as a drug, he said.