The pores are used by the bacteria when there is an increase in pressure inside the cell, allowing liquid to leave the cell without the pressure causing the cell to burst, the research found.
A team of scientists at the University of Leeds, led by Christos Pliotas, found a way to ‘trick’ the bacterial cell walls into opening the largest such pores, mechanosensitive channel of large conductance (MscL), potentially making the cells more vulnerable to antibiotics.
Activating the pores to open would see approximately 700 holes occur in each cell, with each being three nanometers in diameter, Pliotas suggested.
"This would be the equivalent of shooting each cell with 700 bullets and 100% target efficiency, causing cell death due to leakage. Additionally, existing antibiotics should become more efficient by facilitating their access to the cell through MscL pores, resulting in increased antibiotic concentration inside the cytoplasm,” he added.
The team of researchers managed to achieve this by disrupting the membrane lipids that keep the MscL channels closed.
The potential for this breakthrough to be used selectively is possible, as the MscL pores are only present in bacterial pathogens and archaea, not in human cells and would not therefore cause disruption to human cell function.