Improving Antibiotic Effectiveness

Antibiotic resistance is a big problem in medicine. As a particular antibiotic is used more—and some are tossed around quite indiscriminately—the bacteria populations it is intended to kill gradually lose their vulnerability to the medication. Each time an antibiotic becomes ineffective, a useful weapon in the medical arsenal is lost.

Now a team of researchers in California is looking for ways to prevent bacteria from developing resistance to medications. We already know that bacteria build structures, called biofilms, that are communities of microbes which make it possible for the resistance of a handful of bacteria to be shared by the group.

The research team, based at the University of California, Berkeley, is looking for ways to attack these biofilms. This would slow down the process of antibiotic resistance and significantly extend the useful life of medications. What they’ve found so far is that bacteria create the structures immediately before expanding and growing into a full-blown infection.

The scientists looked at cholera bacteria to figure out the process by which this biofilm construction operates. This will provide valuable tools for destroying the structures and exposing individual bacteria to antibiotics and other forms of treatment.

“Now, we can come up with a logical approach to discovering how to take down their building, or prevent them from forming the building itself,” lead researcher Veysel Berk said in a release. “Eventually, we want to make these bugs homeless.”

These techniques may also be useful against other biofilms, such as dental plaques. The process could have widespread applications in areas outside medicine as well.

Other avenues of research include genetic manipulation of bacteria to prevent antibiotic resistance entirely. Bacteria pass on to their offspring the genes that allowed them to survive the initial antibiotic onslaught and eventually most of the bacteria are unaffected. What the team aims to do is find a way to deactivate or remove the genes that allow some bacteria to be safe from antibiotics, so as to prevent resistance from evolving.

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