Scientists have generally thought that superbugs are weaker than normal bacteria in drug-free environments because they expend more resources to maintain resistances, as seen by their slower cell-division rates. But researchers have now reported in the journal PLoS Genetics that some antibiotic-resistant superbugs can out-perform their normal cousins even when there are no drugs present. The results suggest that fighting these resilient bacteria will take more than just curbing antibiotic use.
What’s the News: Gonorrhea, known in earlier days as the clap, has generally been considered the training wheels of STDs: a young sailor on his first tour of duty would feel a slight burning while urination, get a big shot of penicillin in the infirmary, learn the error of his ways, and start carrying a condom in his wallet.
But after years of warning that drug resistance in STDs was on the way, scientists have now found a strain of the bacterium that stands up to the usual antibiotic treatments, sparking fears that the days of easily banished gonorrhea are over.
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.
What’s the News: Scientists are using nanoparticles to develop ways to fight bacteria that are resistant to conventional antibiotics. These tiny drugs physically punch holes through bacteria instead of killing them chemically, which means that they could be especially effective on antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains like the dangerous methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). “The applications are going to be very diverse, whether we’re talking about wound healing or dressing, skin infection, and quite possibly injections into the bloodstream,” James Hedrick, master inventor at IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California, told Popular Science.
The antibiotics-resistant superbug that emerged in South Asia appears to have claimed its first life. According to doctors who treated a man in Belgium, he went to a hospital in Pakistan after a car accident, and there he picked up the bacterial infection. While the man died back in June, his doctors announced today that he carried the superbug.
This new health scare intensified this week after researchers published a study in The Lancet Infectious Diseases characterizing “a new antibiotic resistance mechanism” in the U.K., India, and Pakistan. How bad is this “mechanism?”
The problem isn’t a particular kind of bacteria. It’s a gene that encodes an enyzme called New Delhi metallo-lactamase-1 (NDM-1). Bacteria that carry it aren’t bothered by traditional antibiotics, or even the drugs known as carbapenems deployed against antibiotic-resistant microbes.
The NDM-1 gene is a special worry because it is found in plasmids — DNA structures that can easily be copied and then transferred promiscuously among different types of bacteria. These include Escherichia coli, the commonest cause of urinary tract infections, and Klebsiella pneumoniae, which causes lung and wound infections and is generated mainly in hospitals [AFP].
It’s no worse than what we had before:
Researchers have invented a new tool in the fight against antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” that are becoming a growing health threat worldwide: a nanoscale device that shows instantly whether new drugs can kill the bacteria. The device uses tiny springboards coated in bacteria proteins, which are then exposed to an antibiotic; if the drug effectively binds to the proteins, the springboard bends.
[D]rug resistant superbugs are becoming more common and increasingly causing problems outside of hospitals. So [lead researcher Rachel] McKendry and colleagues want to find speedier ways to screen new potential antibiotics. They say their new nanoscale device can help, revealing in minutes whether an antibiotic is potent enough to kill bacteria [New Scientist]. Typically, researchers test new antibiotics by growing a bacterial culture and then applying the antibiotics, but it can take days for the cultures to grow.
Ninety years after the discovery of the first antibiotic, penicillin, researchers have found an entirely new tactic in the fight against bacteria that cause infectious diseases. Instead of hunting for new ways to kill bacteria, researchers have developed a drug, called LED209, that disarms them, preventing them from releasing the toxins that cause illness.
“The sensors in bacteria are waiting for the right signal to initiate the expression of virulent genes,” [said lead researcher] Vanessa Sperandio…. “Using LED209, we blocked those sensing mechanisms and basically tricked the bacteria to not recognize that they were within the host” [Reuters]. The new technique, which has only been demonstrated in mice so far, could be a boon for researchers who are worried about creating more antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.”
It may make you feel better to see a hospital orderly wiping down every surface in your room with an anti-bacterial wipe. But according to a new study, that wipe isn’t killing bacteria on contact, and may be simply picking up bacteria from one surface and distributing it to others.
In an era where antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” like MRSA are a growing threat in hospitals, nurses and orderlies have understandably been wielding the wipes diligently. But when a team led by microbiologist Gareth Williams tested wipes after their use at several hospitals in Wales, they found that MRSA in particular could easily be spread by those handy little moist towelettes.