CHAPEL HILL -- Putting bacteria on birth control could stop the spread of drug-resistant microbes, and researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have found a way to do just that.
The team discovered a key weakness in the enzyme that helps fertile bacteria swap genes for drug resistance. Drugs called bisphosphonates, widely prescribed for bone loss, block this enzyme and prevent bacteria from spreading antibiotic resistance genes, the research shows. Interfering with the enzyme has the added effect of annihilating antibiotic-resistant bacteria in laboratory cultures. Animal studies of the drugs are now underway.
Our discoveries may lead to the ability to selectively kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria in patients, and to halt the spread of resistance in clinical settings, said Matt Redinbo, Ph.D., senior study author and professor of chemistry, biochemistry and biophysics at UNC-Chapel Hill.
The study appears online the week of July 9, 2007, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health.
The study provides a new weapon in the battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which represent a serious public health problem. In the last decade, almost every type of bacteria has become more resistant to antibiotic treatment. These bugs cause deadly infections that are difficult to treat and expensive to cure.
Every time someone takes an antibiotic, the drug kills the weakest bacteria in the bloodstream. Any bug that has a protective mutation against the antibiotic survives. These drug-resistant microbes quickly accumulate useful mutations and share them with other bacteria through conjugation the microbe equivalent of mating.
Conjugation starts when two bacteria smoosh their membranes together. After each opens a hole in their membrane, one squirts a single strand of DNA to the other. Then the two go on their merry way,
Contact: Becky Oskin
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill