Study shows how anthrax uses gases to protect itself from antibiotics

Hydrogen sulfide produced by bacteria, once thought to simply be simply a by-product of cellular activity, was recently discovered to be a major factor in protecting the organisms from many kinds of antibiotics.

Scientists from the NYU School of Medicine, led by Dr. Evgeny Nudler, a professor of biochemistry, discovered that hydrogen sulfide acts a protective mechanism against a process known as oxidative stress, the means by which antibiotics kill bacteria, according to

The study, published in the online version of the journal Nature, has the potential to help researchers develop new techniques to make bacteria and even anthrax more susceptible to antibiotics given at lower doses and to possibly help reverse antibiotic resistance in major human pathogens.

“Surprisingly little has been known about hydrogen sulfide biochemistry and physiology in common bacteria” Nudler said, reports. “We are excited about the potential impact this research may have on the growing problem of microbial resistance.

“These findings suggest a conceptually new approach, an adjuvant therapy that targets bacterial gas defenses and thus increases the efficacy of many clinically used antibiotics.”

A previous study conducted by Dr. Nudler showed that nitric acid is produced simultaneously with hydrogen sulfide in a limited number of bacteria, including B. anthracis, the causative of anthrax. Nitric acid provides a similar function, and those bacteria that produce it cannot survive without both gasses.