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Communication breakdown: A new way to overcome antibiotic resistance

Interfering with communication among bacteria can prevent them from mounting a unified and perhaps deadly assault on their host organism, research by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigators shows. The finding suggests a different kind of medicine that could be less likely than traditional antibiotics to promote the development of drug-resistant bacteria.

The new research, published July 30, 2009, in Molecular Cell, targeted a bacterial communication process known as quorum sensing, which triggers bacteria to act collectively only once they reach sufficient numbers to make their common activity worthwhile. In the case of disease-causing bacteria, that collective action is often the release of toxins.

“If you cut off those lines of communication, you have just individuals acting and you don’t get the benefit of the collective, coordinated behavior,” said Bonnie Bassler, professor of molecular biology, Princeton University.

The experiment shows that interfering with quorum sensing may provide an alternative to traditional antibiotics, Bassler says, and circumvent the problem of resistance that antibiotics foster by killing off susceptible bacteria but allowing resistant ones to survive and propagate.

(Note: MicrobeWorld is currently working on a video production about this based on a presentation Bonnie Bassler gave recently at the Koshland Science Museum in Washington, D.C.)

Here's Bassler's TED presentation on the subject.













 
 

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