The alarming rise in drug-resistant hospital ‘superbugs’ and the associated increase in fatalities is driving the development of technologies to search for new antibiotics and improve disease diagnostics. One of the most successful drug targets is the bacterial cell wall, an evolutionary feature of virtually all prokaryotes and vital for their survival by providing mechanical strength. The recent discovery of bacterial cytoskeletal proteins analogous to the key force-bearing machinery in eukaryotes also provides new opportunities for drug discovery, but little is known about their mechanical role in bacteria. In the present short article, I review recent developments in the field of nanotechnology to investigate the mechanical mechanisms of action of potent antibiotics on cell wall and cytoskeletal targets with unprecedented spatial, temporal and force resolution and the development of a new generation of nanomechanical devices to detect pathogens for point-of-care diagnostics.

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