Gene editing could prevent the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria

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Researchers at the University of Colorado have found a way of preventing the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a promising new discovery in the fight against deadly superbugs.

Image Credit: Kateryna Kon / Shutterstock

According to the Centers for Disease Control, multidrug resistant bacteria such as E. coli infect almost 2 million people and kill at least 23,000 people every year in the U.S.

To address the problem, Peter Otoupal and colleagues have developed the Controlled Hindrance of Adaptation of OrganismS (CHAOS) approach, where the genome-editing technique CRISPR is used to change multiple gene expressions within bacterial cells so that their central processes and ability to evolve defence mechanisms are disrupted.

We now have a way to cut off the evolutionary pathways of some of the nastiest bugs and potentially prevent future bugs from emerging at all."

Peter Otoupal, Co-author

The CHAOS technique is the outcome of work that Otoupal and team started in 2013.

They searched for genes that act as “kill switches” for E.coli and found that when they altered only one gene at a time, the bacteria were able to adapt and survive.

When they tweaked two or more genes, however, the bacteria became weaker.

As reported in the journal Nature Communications Biology, the technique uses several genetic levers to cause stress in the bacterial cell that eventually makes it more susceptible to the antibiotics currently available.

The bacterial geneome itself is not changed, but the expression of individual genes is.

You can think of it in terms of a series of escalating annoyances to the cell that eventually cause it to weaken. This method offers tremendous potential to create more effective combinatorial approaches."

Anushree Chatterjee, Study Author

Next, the team plans to refine the CHAOS technique by finding out what the most effective disruptions are.

Chatterjee says that because diseases are so dynamic, smarter therapies need to be designed that can gain control over their rapid adaptation rates: "The emphasis in our lab is demonstrating the efficacy of these methods and then finding ways to translate the technology to modern clinical settings."


This article has been re-written from a press release originally published on EurekAlert.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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