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Learning the language of bacteria
Date:12/6/2010

ly fight a much broader range of bacteria."

Finding a broad-spectrum activity for the synthetic lactones is good news, Blackwell adds. "Bacteria come in countless varieties, and the ability to target multiple organisms with one compound could streamline the search for drugs. At the same time, we also have found differences in signal selectivity that may allow us to target some bacteria while ignoring others."

That could provide the best of both worlds, Blackwell says. One drug might halt multiple infections, but related drugs might affect only one microbe in a mixture. "The data indicate that it should be possible to design and use compounds that are either selective or broad-spectrum."

The non-native signaling compounds tested in Blackwell's study were first uncovered in Vibrio fischeri, the bacterium that produces light in the "flashlight squid," which lives in the Pacific Ocean. The flashlight squid and its glowing bacteria have a symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties and have been intensely studied by Ned Ruby and Margaret McFall-Ngai at UW-Madison. But quorum sensing is also active in bacteria that cause disease in animals and plants, Blackwell says.

The need for new ways to control bacteria reflects the rapid evolution and spread of bacterial resistance to the most powerful antibiotics. Antibiotics are no longer a high research priority at most pharmaceutical companies,

Blackwell says. "There is a crisis in antibiotic development, and there is a tremendous need to develop new ways to block bacterial infection. Academics can lead the way by identifying such targets"

Quorum sensing has attracted considerable interest as a way to keep bacteria from "behaving badly," Blackwell says. Because a drug that blocks the quorum signal would not kill bacteria but simply prevent them from releasing toxins and causing disease, "we anticipate that the bacteria are not going to develop resistance as quickly, if a
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Contact: Helen Blackwell
blackwell@chem.wisc.edu
608-262-1503
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Source:Eurekalert

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