You've likely heard of our impending doom at the hands of antibiotic resistant bacteria. We are living in – or are about to enter, depending on who you talk to – a post-antibiotic era. The drugs that we depend on in the war against bacteria are becoming useless due to overuse and misuse.
But the picture may not be so bleak, say scientists at Oregon State University. They have developed a new addition to the antibiotic arsenal – a molecule that stops bugs from destroying antibiotics.
Antiobiotic resistance is quickly becoming a global problem. Bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus (shown in the electron micrograph above) are no longer affected by antibiotics. Image NIAID via Flickr CC.
Basically, the molecule stops bacteria from creating an enzyme that makes it resistant to a range of penicillins. Without this protective enzyme – known as New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase, or NDM-1 for short– the bacteria can’t develop resistance and so remains vulnerable.
The new molecule is catchily known as PPMO – which stands for peptide-conjugated phosporodiamidate morpholino oligomer, of course.
“We’re targeting a resistance mechanism that’s shared by a whole bunch of pathogens,” Bruce Geller says, he is a microbiology professor at Oregon State’s College of Science and College of Agricultural Sciences. “It’s the same gene in different types of bacteria, so you only have to have one PPMO that’s effective for all of them, which is different than other PPMOs that are genus specific.”
In lab tests, PPMO allowed the antibiotic meropenem – used to combat a wide variety of infections – to fight three different bacteria that create NDM-1.
Geller says that what we are now looking at is a whole range of antibiotics that are basically redundant, the bacteria they fight are completely resistant. “So that’s left us with making modifications to existing antibiotics,” he explains. But the PPMO can revitalise these antibiotics, making them able to fight off bacteria once again.
“So we can get a PPMO approved and then go back and use these antibiotics that had become useless.” Geller believes the PPMO will be ready for human testing in three years or so.
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