Boston, MA, February 4, 2013 A team of scientists just won a battle in the war against antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" -- and only time will tell if their feat is akin to the bacterial "Battle of Gettysburg" that turns the tide toward victory.
They won this particular battle, or at least gained some critical intelligence, not by designing a new antibiotic, but by interfering with the metabolism of the bacterial "bugs" E. coli in this case and rendering them weaker in the face of existing antibiotics, as reported today in Nature Biotechnology.
It's the "kick 'em when they're down" style of fighting, and the team from Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Boston University used sophisticated computer modeling and biotechnology as their weapons of choice.
"We are in critical need for novel strategies to boost our antibiotic arsenal," said senior author and Wyss Core Faculty member Jim Collins, Ph.D., a pioneer of synthetic biology who is also the William F. Warren Distinguished Professor at Boston University, where he leads the Center for BioDynamics. "With precious few new antibiotics in the pipeline, we are finding new ways to harness and exploit certain aspects of bacterial physiology."
In this case, the team targeted a little understood but key part of bacterial metabolism called ROS production.
ROS, or "reactive oxygen species," include molecules like superoxide and hydrogen peroxide that are natural byproducts of normal metabolic activity. Bacteria usually cope just fine with them, but too many can cause serious damage or even kill the cell. In fact, Collins' team revealed a few years ago the true antibiotic "modis operandi": they kill bacteria in part by ramping up ROS production.
The precise genetic mechanisms by which E. coli produces ROS remain elusive, Collins said, so his team adopted a standard computer model that maps out the way scientists
|Contact: Kristen Kusek|
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard