3.15.2009

Outside the box

A recent study, described in Nature Chemical Biology, demonstrates the potential of an innovative approach to neutralizing virulent bacteria (the ones that make you sick) while preventing the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains. As opposed to killing the bacteria, the new-style antibiotics inhibit the activity of an enzyme necessary for the bacteria to communicate. Virulence dependent on this communication is thus prevented.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria emerge in response to the intense selective pressure of traditional antibiotics, which kill 99.9% of the microbes. The ones with resistance are selected for, and they come to dominate the gene pool. The hypothesis is that if the pressure is eased--the bacteria aren't actually killed--antibiotic resistance won't be necessary and won't emerge.

In this particular study, resistance still had not developed after researchers tested 26 successive generations. If these results can be replicated, and the new antibiotics are found to be safe for human use, this would relieve a lot of apprehension about the future of antibiotic resistant microbes. We shall see.

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