Researchers have made a new discovery that could help scientists better understand how bacteria becomes resistant to antibiotics.

Scientists from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, identified a mutation in a bacteria that's similar to the bacteria that causes tuberculosis.
The mutation promotes high-level antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

Nancy Sasaki, the associate dean of natural sciences and mathematics at the University of Denver (DU), discussed the study's findings with us.

"In the past, it's always been thought that there was a single mutation change for each drug resistancy, but what their study did is it showed a single mutation conferred multiple drug resistances," said Dr. Sasaki. "We always talk about this in grand scales of treating people and what they're doing is they are studying the molecular piece of it - inside the bacterium."

Dr. Sasaki says this discovery will not only help scientists understand how bacteria becomes drug-resistant, but can also lead to the development of new medications to fight different types of antibiotic-resistant infections.

"We need to know where these mutations are occurring, how they are affecting the cell, so we can develop targeted drug treatments for those types of resistances," she said. "If we can understand at the molecular level that translates to those who are developing those antibiotics or looking, or scouring, for better antibiotics."

A 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at least 23,000 people are killed by infections already resistant to nearly all available drugs, and that's just in the U.S. alone.

Dr. Sasaki says the next step is applying the study's results to other types of drug-resistant bacteria.

"Does what's happening in mycobacterium also happen in other organisms that have these multiple drug-resistances? Can we use anything that's gained in one disease and translate it to the treatment of other diseases?," said Dr. Sasaki.