Enzymes that break down tough films of disease-causing bacteria could one day be used as drugs.

Biofilms protect bacteria from antibiotics and are difficult to eradicate. To look for biofilm-fighting molecules, Lynne Howell at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, and her colleagues studied Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a pathogen that mainly infects hospital patients. Several sugars produced by P. aeruginosa form components of its biofilm matrix, and the team identified two glycoside hydrolase enzymes that target and break down two of these sugars. When added to biofilms of clinical and environmental strains of the bacterium in culture, the enzymes degraded the films by 58% to 94%. They also inhibited biofilm formation for up to 72 hours and, when combined with an antibiotic, reduced bacterial growth by more than the antibiotic alone.

The authors say they have begun tests in animals to study the enzymes' therapeutic potential.

Sci. Adv. 2, e1501632 (2016)