New genetic treatment removes antibiotic resistance from bacteria

Jane and Aatos Erkko foundation has awarded University of Jyväskylä's Academy Research Fellow Matti Jalasvuori's research group 255 000 euro grant for investigating the conjugative transfer of anti-antibiotic resistance genetic elements. The group studies different ways by which the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria could be controlled. The aim in this project is to develop probiotic bacteria that re-sensitize already resistant bacteria to antibiotics, hence providing a mean to, for example, cure ESBL-carriage.

Matti Jalasvuori notes that there are two key factors why bacteria become resistant: the use of antibiotics and the exchange of resistance genes between bacteria.

"Because of gene exchange, bacteria can develop resistance even if they are not exposed to antibiotics. Especially among notorious hospital pathogens, such as Escherichia coliandKlebsiella pneumoniae, the resistance genes are usually a part of mobile genetic elements that readily transfer from one bacterium to another", says Jalasvuori.

This gene transfer, however, can also be turned against bacteria. Jalasvuori's group has developed modified bacteria that disseminate a resistance-gene destroying CRISPR-element instead of resistance genes. In the bacterial cell, this element recognizes different resistance genes and degrade them. Elements can be transferred into, for example, gut flora within harmless probiotic bacteria.

"The transfer of the element into resistant bacterium makes it susceptible to antibiotics. In the future, this approach could help prevent the accumulation of resistances in various environments such as farms."

The group of Jalasvuori is working at the Department of Biological and Environmental Science at University of Jyväskylä. The group is also part of the Helsinki Institute of Life Science Grand Challenge consortium.

The group recently published a paper on the topic in Gut Microbes journal with the title "Midbiotics: conjugative plasmids for genetic engineering of natural gut flora."

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