Los Alamos National Labs with logo 2021

Resisting Bacterial Resistance

Los Alamos scientists are taking an in-depth look at how bacteria defeat death-by-antibiotics.
March 8, 2016
Artist rendering of green bacteria

Gram-negative bacteria have evolved multiple strategies for self-defense—including mechanisms to pump out any molecules that could kill them, such as antibiotics.

“We want to ensure that antibiotics stay inside bacteria.”

Each year, nearly two million people in the United States acquire antibiotic-resistant infections. And despite all the advancements of modern medicine, nearly 20,000 of them die. This is because bacteria and other microbes have, over billions of years, evolved extremely effective ways of protecting themselves from harmful substances, such as those used as antibiotics.

Los Alamos scientists are investigating one of these defense mechanisms, a molecular machine called an efflux pump, to understand more about its role in bacterial drug resistance. By characterizing how this pump works, how bacteria regulate its use, and how microbes help each other survive, the scientists hope to hone their own strategies for human survival.