Trail of genetic clues leads to new antibiotics

A team of scientists led by James Collins, a professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University, has followed a trail of genetic clues to determine exactly how antibiotics kill bacteria. And their work may point to a new approach to revive the effectiveness of existing antibiotics while tracking down a new generation of antibiotics.

Various classes of antibiotics work by over-producing hydroxyl radical molecules which kill bacteria. By studying which genes were either turned on or off when E. coli bacteria was exposed to an antibiotic, and by mapping out the exact pathway--a molecular alarm system--that leads to cell death, the researchers were able to determine the sequence of events that lead to the sudden influx of hydroxyl radical molecules. The alarm system itself may be an effective target for new antibiotics.

"A lot of drug development has focused on targeting something that's important for the cell to live--something essential," BU doctoral student Michael Kohanski told Medical Science News. "But if you understand the system and its complexity, you don't necessarily have to hit the gene or the protein that is the essential factor."

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