S. aureus bacteria are a common source of food poisoning because they are resistant to heat and the high salt concentrations used in food preparation and storage.
Wellcome-funded scientists at Imperial College London have found that a signalling molecule called cyclic di-AMP is critical for this salt-regulation process.
Disrupting the mechanism means the bacteria either absorb too much salt from their environment or lose too much water – causing them to dehydrate and die.
The team, led by Professor Angelika Gründling, hope to use this knowledge to develop a treatment that prevents food poisoning by ensuring all bacteria in food are killed.
S. aureus are naturally occurring bacteria. They are present on the skin or in the nose of one in four people. If the bacteria get further inside the body they can cause serious infection and blood poisoning. There is also a 'superbug' form of the bacteria, known as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
The researchers are investigating whether their discovery could help to develop a treatment for patients with MRSA that could work alongside conventional antibiotics.