Bacterial "homing missiles" could unlock new antibiotic treatments

Only recently identified, tailocins look like the “tails” of bacteriophages, tiny viruses that prey on bacteria. It seems like the bugs have turned these attackers to their advantage, producing tailocins themselves and firing them off against their enemies. Tailocins will latch onto other bacteria, then punch a hole through the cell, killing it.

“Tailocins are extremely strong protein nanomachines made by bacteria,” says Vivek Mutalik, an author of the study. “They look like phages but they don’t have the capsid, which is the ‘head’ of the phage that contains the viral DNA and replication machinery. So, they’re like a spring-powered needle that goes and sits on the target cell, then appears to poke all the way through the cell membrane making a hole to the cytoplasm, so the cell loses its ions and contents and collapses.”

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