A new way to test antimicrobial compounds that selectively lyse bacterial cell membranes could lead to new topical or intravenous antibiotics and to self-sterilizing countertops and surgical gowns, according to researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Gregory Tew and his colleagues report details of the approach, which involves x-ray crystal structures and computer calculations, on April 21 in Chemistry & Biology. The work builds on earlier results from Tew’s lab and from colleague Zhan Chen at the University of Michigan. The team has demonstrated the efficacy of their approach on a new synthetic compound designed by Tew's team. “Being able to see how these molecules interact with the membrane at the molecular level in real-time will prove invaluable,” says Tew. "This will let us build much better models of how these novel antibiotics interact with membranes—if we understand that, we can build drugs that are more effective and less toxic," he says.