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Slate takes on the battle against bacteria

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In the midst of alarming stories and studies on the rise of drug-resistant bacteria, an article posted today on Slate discusses how developing strategies to defeat so-called "superbugs" will likely require an investment in emerging biomedical research.

Slate's Brian Palmer argues:

A little creativity might end this game of microbial Whac-A-Mole. Some underfunded, underappreciated researchers have dreamed up truly innovative strategies for stopping genetic transfer-even turning the phenomenon against our enemies. In vitro studies have shown that chemicals like ascorbic acid shut down the movement of antibiotic resistance between cells. (Right now it's effective only at concentrations that a person couldn't tolerate, but it's a start.) Because almost all antibiotic resistance relies on genetic transfer, this technique might be the solution we've been seeking since the very first colony of bacteria solved penicillin in 1944. In the best-case scenario, coupling antibiotics with anti-genetic transfer agents could eliminate the need to ration antibiotics.

Others studies have suggested that we can "infect" bacteria with genetic instructions that cause them to waste their resources copying useless genes, leaving them no time to eat and reproduce. Another possibility is to train bacteria genetically to coexist with us peacefully. For example, some bacteria survive by releasing a toxin that helps them consume our intestinal material, causing disease. If we can develop a gene that enables these strains to eat our food instead of our flesh, they'll have been effectively disarmed. Antibiotic resistance wouldn't even be a concern.

Photo by melynaguona

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