Researchers from the Universities of York and Leeds have been awarded £3.3m from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to find out how a family of proteins known as colicins force their way into bacterial cells before destroying them.
The team, led by Professor Colin Kleanthous, from the University of York's Department of Biology, will develop earlier research that suggests colicins use decoys to mimic key parts of the cells' own protein machinery to evade their defences.
Professor Kleanthous said: "Colicins are the weapon used in the biological warfare that takes place between competing bacteria. Understanding how this group of proteins work could help scientists develop new drug delivery methods to target the bacteria that cause diseases in people."
"It's as though the colicins are carrying the equivalent of hand grenades which they can deploy without harming themselves," said Professor Sheena Radford of the University of Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences.
The five year programme of research aims to discover how colicins specifically penetrate Gram-negative bacteria which are protected by two membrane barriers.