What can we learn from bacteria that eat antibiotics for fuel?

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Image source: James Gathany/CDC

Some bacteria take antibiotic resistance a step further: they chow down on the very compounds designed to kill microbes and use them as fuel. Researchers detail [April 30] in Nature Chemical Biology how some bacteria accomplish this feat, including the genes and enzymes involved in digesting penicillin.

Guatam Dantas, a microbiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, stumbled across the phenomenon of antibiotic-eating bacteria during an earlier study looking for bacteria that can break down toxins, he explains. In that study, his group chose some antibiotics as controls to measure microbes’ responses to compounds they couldn’t eat—or so the researchers thought. Instead, Dantas was surprised to find that some of the bacteria could, in fact, eat the drugs, and he began asking colleagues to send him soil samples from different places so his team could test for the presence of such microbes. As it turned out, they were everywhere.

Related article:  Video: Neuroscientist Sergiu Pasca on his pioneering efforts to grow brain organoids from stem cells

[T]he genes could be used to specially engineer microbes to break down antibiotic pollutants—for example, in waste from farms where the drugs have been used in livestock or in effluent from hospitals.

Microbiologist Xiaohui Zhou of the University of Connecticut sees promise in putting the enzymes to work making new antibiotics, because they cut existing compounds in predictable places, and the resulting pieces could be mixed and matched to create semi-synthetic drugs.

Read full, original post: How Bacteria Eat Penicillin

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