Scientists have announced an advance in the quest to solve the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, saying they had found a chink in the armour of bacteria cells.
A resilient class of germs called Gram-negative bacteria have an impermeable lipid-based outer membrane that defends the cell against the human immune system as well as antibiotics. Removing the barrier would cause the bacteria to become vulnerable and die.
Scientists at the University of East Anglia said they had discovered how cells transported the membrane building blocks - molecules called lipopolysaccharides.
"We have identified the path and gate used by the bacteria to transport the barrier building blocks to the outer surface," Professor Changjiang Dong from the university's Norwich Medical School said.
"Importantly, we have demonstrated that the bacteria would die if the gate is locked."
The discovery, published in the journal Nature, paves the way for new drugs to disrupt the building process, thus bringing down the cell walls.
In April, the World Health Organisation warned the rise of drug resistance was allowing once-treatable diseases to once again become deadly.