Antimicrobial Agents and Infectious Diseases

Slowing the Growth of Dangerous Bacteria May Be More Effective Than Killing Them

Researchers at the University of Illinois have found a way to put bacteria into the dormant mode they adopt when nutrients are scarce and their survival is threatened, giving the body a chance to mount a stronger offensive and kill the bacteria off itself without the help of antibiotics.  This, in turn, decreases the chance of the bacteria developing antibiotic resistance and gives antibiotics a longer shelf life.

The team was led by senior author Satish Nair and first author Shi-Hui Dong, and builds on work by University of Illinois colleagues John Cronan and John Woodland Hastings, who died in 2014.

Nair explained that when bacteria compete with other microbes for scarce resources, the more successful group produces an antibiotic to kill off the other species.  “Ever since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, we have been using antibiotic molecules developed by one microorganism to kill another microorganism” said Nair.  “Unfortunately, the bacteria have quickly adapted to resist antibiotics…until, on average, nearly every species of bacteria is resistant to at least one antibiotic.”

Nair and Dong’s research targets the language, or group signaling, that bacteria use to tell each other to slow down growth.  They said that knowing how bacteria produce the dormancy-signal molecule paves the way for developing molecules that can disrupt bacterial communication so the body can kill the bacteria without the use of antibiotics.

“We don’t need to kill bacteria to treat disease and infection, we can just slow them down and make them less potent,” Nair said.  “That way, there is little chance for any resistance to develop.”

For more information, go to PNAS; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1705400114.