News / Health

Scientists Find New Strategy Against Drug-Resistant Superbugs

Petri dishes with bacterial strains of EHEC bacteria (bacterium Escherichia coli.) , June 2, 2011
Petri dishes with bacterial strains of EHEC bacteria (bacterium Escherichia coli.) , June 2, 2011
Jessica Berman
Scientists may have found an effective new weapon against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  They did not create a new drug to kill these microbes; instead, they found a way to interfere with the metabolism of the extra-hardy bacterium - E. coli in this case - so that the germs became more vulnerable to existing antibiotics.  

Scientists believe they have discovered the so-called superbugs’ Achilles heel, a biochemical weakness in the bacteria that makes it possible - in effect - to "kick them while they are down.”

Researchers, led by Jim Collins of Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biotechnology in Massachusetts, altered the E. coli's bacterium’s metabolic processes, interfering with its normal production of waste products called ROS, short for "reactive oxygen species."

Normally, the E. coli bacterium would be able to break down the ROS they produce.  But Collins, also a professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University, says that by tweaking a number of genes to increase ROS production, scientists forced waste levels within the cell to become destructive, weakening the superbugs and making them vulnerable to antibiotics.

Researchers used a computer model to map out the metabolic activity of the E. coli bacterium, selectively deleting genes to see which ones might be involved in increasing the production of ROS, and then zeroing in on the most likely ROS genes.
 
After switching off these ROS genes and successfully increasing the bacterium's waste production, Collins says scientists conducted experiments with a drug-resistant strain of E. coli, targeting certain areas in the bacterium with standard antibiotics and bleach.

“And in each case, we found the targets could boost the killing efficacy from tenfold to a thousand fold," said Collins.

Collins says his team's approach actually mimics how some antibiotics are believed to kill bacteria.  He cautions that the new strategy is not a “magic bullet” that can solve the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria -- a problem that is undermining traditional treatment strategies against lethal diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.  But Collins believes the discovery could strengthen our existing arsenal of drugs.

“Where this can help address the problem of growing antibiotic resistance is that we’re, with this approach, serving to boost the effectiveness of our existing antibiotics.  And we have preliminary data that indicate that this approach can serve to resensitize resistant strains to antibiotics to which they’ve grown resistant," he said.

In other words, there could soon be a pill that would cause drug-resistant bacteria to lose their resistance and allow potentially life-threatening infections to respond to standard antibiotic treatment.

An article describing a new method for fighting antibiotic-resistant microbes is published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

You May Like

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

Physically and culturally close to Western Europe, Lviv feels solidarity with compatriots in country’s east but says they need to decide own future More

West African Women Disproportionately Affected by Ebola

Women's roles in families and the community put them at greater risk for contracting the disease, officials say More

Video NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Arrives at Mars

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft will measure rates at which gases escape Martian atmosphere into space More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid