Stripping MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) of its "armour" is likely to lead to the creation of a vaccine for the superbug, scientists have said.
US researchers are testing antibodies which target the the infection's replication machinery. The antibodies crack the protein "zipper", opening MRSA cell walls during cell division. This zipper is then prevented from closing, killing off the infection.
Images taken by the scientists with an electron microscope contain evidence of MRSA cells exploding. The breakthrough paves the way for a vaccine which would be given to people having surgery in hospital.
Regis O'Keefe, one of the doctors involved in the project at the University of Rochester Medical Centre, New York, said: "We are very excited about our vaccine research. It'll have a phenomenal impact on individuals locally and across the country if we are successful."
MRSA is a multi-drug resistant form of the common "Staph" bug. Surgical patients are most at risk from the bacterium which kills around 800 people every year in England and Wales.
Professor Edward Schwartz, who led the research, said: "A vaccine in humans would probably not be a foolproof approach to preventing infection 100% of the time. However, even if we could reduce the risk of MRSA by 35%, that would be an enormous improvement in the field."
The researchers are looking for antibodies with the best ability to bind to glucosaminidase.