Bacteria that have evolved defenses against antibiotics are something of a disaster waiting to happen. Whenever a new drug-resistant strain, or a gene that confers resistance, crops up in a new place—as when the NDM-1 gene, which confers resistant to up to 14 drugs, showed up in drinking water in New Delhi—it’s another nail in coffin of a world in which we can heal nearly everything. Scientists are looking into how to get around that resistance, though, and there are some hopeful headlines now and then, including a recent study from researchers at North Carolina State University in which they identified a molecule that can boost the efficacy of two antibiotics against bacteria 16-fold.
The molecule, which the researchers found by testing about 50 candidates to see if they could reduce the number of NDM-1-carrying K. pneumoniae by a significant amount, doesn’t have any antimicrobial properties of its own. It’s an adjuvant, which means it has to be applied in tandem with another drug to have any effect—in this case, the antibiotics carbapenem and cephalosporin. The researchers checked a couple of different ways that it could be working, and found that it was making bacterial membranes easier for the drug to get through, but not enough to account for all of its surprising strength: it lowered by 16 times the amount of antibiotic required to knock the bacteria on their behinds. That’s handy, because taking massive amounts of antibiotics—enough to overwhelm the defenses of resistant bacteria—can be hazardous to your health, and if adding in this adjuvant tips the scales so that safe amounts can knock out infections, that’s pretty neat.
As an antibiotic sidekick, it’s definitely still on the mysterious side. But the team writes that they are looking further into its mechanism, so stay tuned.
Image courtesy of Muriel Gottrop / Wikimedia Commons
What’s the News: A gene that makes bacteria resistant to up to 14 antibiotics has been discovered in bacteria in drinking water and street puddles in the Indian capital of New Delhi by a research team from the University of Cardiff in Wales. Scientists were already aware that microbes bearing this gene, which produces an enzyme called NDM-1, were infecting people in India, but it had been thought that such bacteria were mainly picked up in hospitals. This study shows that the gene, which is capable of jumping from species to species, is loose in the environment.