It has been nearly a century now since Alexander Fleming discovered the antibacterial properties of naturally occurring molecules produced by molds, known as penicillin. This initiated the revolutionary growth of “antibiotics,” the key means of treating many bacterial infections to this day. One key problem with contemporary medicine, though, is that bacteria evolve, they develop new strains, and some of the new strains prove resistant to the old drugs.
The usual approach to treating infections by antibiotic-resistant bacteria has been simply to strive to stay a step ahead. The human species has been fighting an arms race with our tiny enemies.
Now, though, a team of biochemists working at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), Quebec, has pointed to a less ad hoc approach. It may be possible to use genetic engineering to bring an end to the arms race, by getting a bacterium to work against itself.
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The INRS paper, in the latest issue of PLOS Pathogens, says that if the workings of this RNA sequence can be blocked, the bacteria become more vulnerable to their human host’s immune response. But further work is necessary on the mechanics of the targeted RNA before this insight can be put to direct clinical use.