Bacteriophages may fight drug resistance

Sept. 22, 2004 at 5:48 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers said a new class of genetic bits that operate in bacteria could be developed into a weapon to fight antibiotic resistance.

A University of California Los Angeles study suggests this mechanism is found in bacteriophages -- the viruses that attack bacteria -- and could be engineered to track down and eliminate bacteria that become antibiotic resistant.

"A problem with antibiotics is that bacteria can mutate and become resistant to a particular antibiotic, while the antibiotic is static and cannot change," said UCLA Professor Jeffery F. Miller. "Bacteriophages are nature's anti-microbials, and they are amazingly dynamic. If the bacterium mutates in an effort to evade, the bacteriophage can change its specificity using the mechanism we discovered, to kill the newly resistant bacterium."

While use of bacteriophages to treat infection is not new, researchers said they've discovered the bacteriophage genome contains a genetic cassette, so to speak, that functions to diversify the part of the virus that binds to the bacterial cell. That cassette allows the phage to rapidly evolve new variants that can recognize bacteria that may have become resistant to the previous phage.

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