The ability of infectious bacteria to form biofilms - which are responsible for two thirds of human infections - makes them particularly difficult to treat. And when these bacteria are also resistant to antibiotics, the medical challenge is even tougher.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia (U.B.C) in Vancouver found that the small anti-biofilm molecule - a peptide known as 1018 - works on a range of bacteria including many that cannot be treated by antibiotics.
They report their findings in the journal P.L.O.S Pathogens.
"Our entire arsenal of antibiotics is gradually losing effectiveness," says lead author Bob Hancock, a professor in the department of Microbiology and Immunology at U.B.C, referring to the severe threat to global health posed by antibiotic-resistant organisms.
Biofilms are highly structured communities of bacteria that can form on living surfaces such as human tissue - including skin, lung and heart - and non-living surfaces, such as medical devices. The authors note they are responsible for at least 65% of all human infections.
In their study, Prof. Hancock and colleagues show how the peptide 1018 - comprising just 12 amino acids, the building blocks of proteins - was able to destroy biofilms and prevent them from forming.
Bacteria are generally classed as either Gram-positive or Gram-negative, depending on their cell wall structure. The different classes are susceptible to different types of antibiotic.