The end of superbugs?

Superbugs are a big problem for the human race, what ways are we devising to combat them and how do they work?

The superbugs have developed many types of resistance. The most common ways are blocking the antibiotics into the bacteria, pumping out the antibiotics, obtaining new enzymes to destroy the drugs or changing the drug binding sites.
Many scientists are trying to tackle the multi-drug resistant bacteria by disrupting one of the bacteria’s drug resistant mechanisms. However, the bacteria are very smart, and find other ways to gain the drug resistance.

What have you found?

We are trying to find a new way to develop a totally new class of antibiotics. As we are targeting the outer surface of the bacteria, the drugs may not necessarily go inside, so the bacteria will find it very difficult to develop drug-resistance.

I’m leading the work to stop the Gram-negative bacteria building up on the outer cell wall, which is essential for these bacteria’s to survive. What we found is that the bacterium builds up on the outer cell wall at molecular level through a path and a gate. The bacteria will die if we block the gate or path for building the outer cell wall, which is a big step forward in developing a new class antibiotics. We are starting to design these molecules and test their activities against the multi-drug resistant bacteria.

What particular ‘bug’ is causing the most problems at the moment?

There is a list on the website, but it doesn’t include everything. They belong to both Gram-negative bacteria and Gram-positive bacteria. I would like to say the Pseudomonas, Salmonella, Gonorrhea, enterobacteriaceae (E.coli, etc) for the Gram-negative bacteria and Staphylococcus aureus and M.tuberculosis for Gram-positive bacteria. In our work we are targeting Gram-negative bacteria, as they have two walls (outer and inner walls), which is more difficult to treat than the Gram-positive bacteria (as only one cell wall).

Do you think we’ll see an end to penicillin usage in the future?

We may see the end of the penicillin in the future, if we cannot find a way to stop more and more bacteria becoming resistant to penicillin.

Will the battle ever come to an end or will more and more superbugs keep appearing?

Unfortunately, the battle will be difficult to end, and more superbugs will appear, but we should find new ways to treat the superbugs.

Professor of Molecular Medicine at the University of East Anglia, Changjiang Dong talks HIW through ending the superbug war.

Professor of Molecular Medicine at the University of East Anglia, Changjiang Dong
Credit University of East Anglia

For a list of the current superbugs known to man: visit

For more information on superbugs, check out issue 61 of HIW. Back issues can be purchased at