A gene editing system bacteria use to shield themselves from viruses has been used by MIT scientists as a sword to vanquish antibiotic resistance. Thus far, the scientists have used the gene editing system, called CRISPR, to improve survival in moth larvae infected with a harmful form of Escherichia coli. Next, they intend to explore its efficacy in mice.
Ultimately, the scientists, led by MIT’s Timothy Lu, M.D., Ph.D., hope that a more fully developed version of their CRISPR approach will treat infections or remove unwanted bacteria in human patients.
The CRISPR system devised by Lu’s team meddles with bacterial genes that confer antibiotic resistance. For example, in a newly published study, the system was used to target NDM-1 and SHV-18. NDM-1 is an enzyme that confers resistance to carbapenems and other beta-lactam antibiotics. SHV-18, a mutation in the bacterial chromosome, helps bacteria resist quinolone antibiotics. It is also a virulence factor in enterohemorrhagic E. coli.
The CRISPR system, the researchers found, was even capable of providing a kind of bonus: It selectively removed specific bacteria from diverse bacterial communities. To achieve this feat, the researchers engineered RNA-guided nucleases (RGNs) against different genetic signatures, enabling simultaneous targeting of a variety of virulence factors and resistance genes. This approach, the researchers suggested, raises the possibility of “microbiome editing”—and not just in antimicrobial applications.
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