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Study finds how starving bacteria beat antibiotics

Some bacteria fight off antibiotics even as they starve.

For years, scientists believed antibiotics failed to work against starving bacteria because the medicines' target spot within the bacteria had slowed or gone dormant.

As it turns out, the bacteria's starvation triggers a reaction that coincidentally helps them defeat antibiotics, a University of Nebraska Medical Center researcher said.

While this finding doesn't provide a cure to certain infections caused by these bacteria, it's a step toward finding one, said Dr. Bradley Britigan, dean of the UNMC College of Medicine. Britigan was one of about a dozen scientists in North America who worked on the project. They published their findings this month in Science magazine.

There's "still a lot of work ahead," said Britigan, who came to UNMC in July from the University of Cincinnati, where he participated in the project.

The research studied two kinds of bacteria — Pseudomonas aeruginosa and E. coli — out of the many that exist. The findings might have broad implications for many bacterial infections, but more work must be done to prove it.

Numerous bacteria tend to band together in a mass called biofilm. Pseudomonas clumped in biofilm sometimes cause infections in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients, in burn and wound victims, and in eyes containing contact lenses.

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