University researchers have discovered how proteins produced by our skin rapidly destroy harmful bacteria.
Understanding how these natural defences work will help scientists design alternatives to conventional antibiotics.
Until now researchers were unable to explain in detail how proteins produced by both plants and animals have been killing harmful germs effectively for millions of years.
Unravelling how these proteins work may help to fight infections that are becoming resistant to conventional antibiotics and therefore increasingly difficult to treat, such as MRSA.
Although not as efficient as a dose of strong antibiotics, these infection-fighting proteins act on a range of harmful bugs.
University scientists and international collaborators studied infection-fighting proteins produced on human skin and by sweat glands.
They used specialist X-ray imaging technology to show that these proteins are shaped like a pipe.
The molecule is able to push fluids through this pipe to rupture the cell wall of the bug, destroying it in milliseconds.
Antibiotics could be designed to mimic the behaviour of these natural proteins, helping to develop better drug treatment for infections.
This research project was part of a large international collaboration. This included the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and Universities in Göttingen, Tübingen, and Freiburg, alongside scientists in Strasbourg and Spain.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.
Now we know the molecular structure of these proteins we can tweak it to make more efficient antibiotics that work so rapidly that germs do not have time to develop resistance.