Widespread 'superbug' is expert at acquiring drug-resistance

The findings may lead to new strategies for combating the infectious microbe

One of the most widely disseminated strains of an antibiotic-resistant bacterium responsible for hundreds of infections in European hospitals can be traced back to the 1950s, according to researchers at The Rockefeller University. Using the molecular tool called DNA fingerprinting, they have shown that this persistent lineage of Staphylococcus aureus is an expert at acquiring resistance to antibiotics.

"The capacity of this bacterium to acquire resistance traits against antibiotics is amazing," says Alexander Tomasz, Ph.D., co-author of the paper and head of the Laboratory of Microbiology at Rockefeller.

The findings, reported in the August 14 issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide new insight into why this particular staphylococci lineage is so successful and ultimately may lead to the discovery of new antibiotics.

According to a recent report by the World Health Organization, "Drug-resistant infections in rich and developing nations alike are threatening to make once treatable diseases incurable." This chilling announcement fits most accurately Staphylococcus aureus, the number one cause of potentially life-threatening hospital-borne infections in the United States and all over the world.

Although many of the spectacular early successes of antibiotics were observed in this microbe, clinical records in hospitals today tell a very different story: an alarmingly large proportion of staphylococci have become resistant to virtually all antibiotics, precluding their use for therapy and earning the name "superbug" for this microbe in the popular press.

Today, almost half of all staphylococcal infections in U.S. hospitals are caused by methicillin-resistant (MRSA) strains. These strains have acquired a piece of DNA, called the mecA gene, which not only confers resistance to methicillin but to an entire class

Contact: Whitney Clavin
Rockefeller University

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