Device helps researchers track antibiotic resistance at gene level

Researchers have developed a device that can track changes in bacteria at the genetic level as they develop resistance to antibiotics--raising hope that new ways to thwart virulent drug-resistant infections will be found.

The team from Sabanci University in Istanbul, Turkey, Harvard Medical School and Harvard University will be presenting their work Wednesday at the 57th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society in Philadelphia.

They call the device a "morbidostat." It grows bacteria in various concentrations of antibiotic, which allows researchers to identify the concentrations at which the antibiotics stopped working. Then, they targeted key genes involved in the drug resistance, documenting real-time changes in genes that gave bacteria an advantage in evolving to "outwit" antibiotics, according to an announcement.

The common bacteria they used in their study, Escherichia coli, showed striking features in its evolution to drug resistance, making it easier to identify the gene involved and track it through several mutations.The researchers hope to apply this knowledge to the molecular design of the next generation of bacteria-killing antibiotics.

As fears grow that infections are gaining new strength, organizations continue to seek ways to curb inappropriate prescription of antibiotics to keep them at bay.

Meanwhile, genome sequencing is helping to track infections in hospitals.

In a Cambridge University study, rapid whole-genome sequencing helped a hospital isolate a MRSA outbreak and track new infections to a single staff member, The 2011 outbreak in a special care baby unit in the U.K. affected 12 infants, but the sequencing linked 26 related cases also involving babies' mothers, their partners, and other members of the community. It also provided a key to an outbreak two months later, even after the baby unit was scrubbed.

Genotyping technology was able to help researchers from East Carolina University pinpoint the source of an outbreak of Mycobacterium mucogenicum to a contaminated faucet within the hospital. Infections at a hematology clinic were traced to a nurse who violated safety protocols by preparing injections at the sink's counter.

To learn more:
- read the abstract
- find the announcement


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