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Now, a multi-university study led by Stanford bioengineer KC Huang reveals that E. coli has managed to keep a big secret about its defenses. He and his collaborators report in Nature that scientists had overlooked the astonishing physical strength of the thin outer membrane that clings to E. coli's stout cell wall.
Scientists had long known that many bacteria have outer membranes. But until now researchers thought of it like a layer of shrink wrap that simply made it tougher to get antibiotics into cells. But as the new study shows, the outer membrane physically protects the cell and could be a good target for a new class of antibacterial drugs.
Outer - Membrane - Suit - Armor - Cell
"We've discovered that the outer membrane can act as a suit of armor that is actually stronger than the cell wall," said Huang, an associate professor of bioengineering and of microbiology and immunology. "It's humbling to think that this function had been hiding in plain sight for all these years."
Huang said the findings suggest new infection-fighting strategies for the roughly half of all bacterial species that, like E. coli, have outer membranes. "If we can attack the outer membrane, infectious bacteria will be pre-weakened for targeting with antibiotic treatments that disrupt cells in other ways," he said.
Bacteria - Cell - Wall - Cell - Workings
All bacteria have a cell wall that surrounds and protects the cell's inner workings. Many decades ago, scientists discovered that E. coli and many other bacteria have an additional layer, called an outer membrane, that surrounds their cell walls.
Since its discovery, this outer membrane has been used as a way to classify bacteria into those that do and do not react to a common staining technique, called a Gram stain. Bacteria with outer membranes do not react to the chemical stain are called Gram-negative. Bacteria with naked cell walls react to the stain and are...
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