Antibiotics just got a sneaky new ally in the fight against superbugs.

In September 2016, the United Nations made a special declaration pledging to fight the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, colloquially known as superbugs.

A lineup of baddies: E. coli in the center, flanked by its goons A. baumannii. Images from James Archer/CDC and David Dorward/NIAID.

About 2 million people catch one of these superbugs each year, and now there are even strains immune to nearly everything we can throw at them. A woman in Nevada recently died of a strain that resisted 26 different antibiotics.


“We’ve lost the ability to use many of our mainstream antibiotics,” said Oregon State University professor Bruce Geller. “Everything’s resistant to them now. That’s left us to try to develop new drugs to stay one step ahead of the bacteria."

But now Geller and a group of scientists have found an interesting twist. Instead of finding a new antibiotic, they found a way to make known medicines work again, thanks to a type of compound called PPMO.

If the fight against antibiotic resistance is a gritty war story, this new approach is like a spy novel.

Fighting against drug-resistant bacteria is an arms race. We make new weapons. They develop new shields against those weapons.

One defense that certain bacteria have is an enzyme known as NDM-1. It's good against a class of antibiotic known as carbapenems. Previously, what we could do to fight NDM-1 is either abandon carbapenems or try to add extra drugs to slow down NDM-1. But Geller's PPMO does something different.

Instead of going after NDM-1 itself, it attacks the messenger RNA that transmits NDM-1's blueprints. It kidnaps the messenger. No messenger means no NDM-1; no NDM-1 means our good-guy antibiotics are back in the fight.

Geller says it'll probably be about three years before human testing of PPMO.

Professor Geller. Image from Oregon State University.

So far, scientists have tested their work both on a petri dish and by giving sick mice the PPMO/antibiotic combo. It worked. They then even tried three different kinds of NDM-1 bacteria; it worked on all of them.

“It’s the same gene in different types of bacteria, so you only have to have one PPMO that’s effective for all of them," said Geller.

That said, creating new drugs is expensive and complicated. It's possible that this won't work for humans. The PPMO should be safe, since humans and other animals don't have NDM-1, but other things like side effects could come up. But even if it doesn't work, this approach opens up whole new avenues for research.

Through innovations like this, we can help push antibiotic resistance back and win the fight.

Heroes
LUSH

Handmade cosmetics company Lush is putting its money where its mouth is and taking a bold step for climate change action.

On September 20 in the U.S. and September 27 in Canada, Lush will shut the doors of its 250 shops, e-commerce sites, manufacturing facilities, and headquarters for a day, in solidarity with the Global Climate Strike taking place around the world. Lush is encouraging its 5000+ employees "to join this critical movement and take a stand until global leaders are forced to face the climate crisis and enact change."

Keep Reading Show less
Planet
Photo by Annie Bolin on Unsplash

Recent tragic mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton have sparked a lot of conversation and action on the state level over the issue of gun control. But none may be as encouraging as the most recent one, in which 145 CEOs signed a letter urging the U.S. Senate to take action at their level.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

The fine folks at Forbes are currently falling all over themselves trying to clean up the mess they created by publishing their 2019 list of 100 Most Innovative Leaders.

The problem: The list included 99 men and one woman. For those not so good with the math, that means according to Forbes, only 1% of the country's most innovative leaders are female.

Have you ever watched a movie that's so abysmally bad that you wonder how it ever even got made? Where you think, "Hundreds and hundreds of people had to have been directly involved in the production of this film. Did any of them ever think to say, 'Hey, maybe we should just scrap this idea altogether?"

That's how it feels to see a list like this. So how did Forbes come up with these results?

Keep Reading Show less
Innovation

There's something delicious and addicting about those trendy recipe videos circulating online. You've seen them before: the quick and beautiful play-by-plays of mouthwatering dishes you wish you were eating at this very moment.

The recipes seem so simple and magical and get you thinking, "Maybe I can make that five-cheese bacon lasagna tonight." And before you know it, you're at the store loading up on Colby-Monterey Jack (or is that just me?).

For some families, though, the ingredients and final product look a little different. As part of Hunger Action Month, the hunger-relief organization Feeding America is using our obsession with cooking videos to highlight the reality many food-insecure families face when they sit down for dinner: hunger, and no food in sight.

By putting a twist on the bite-sized food videos all over the internet, they hope to raise awareness that hunger is an unacceptable reality for too many families.

Keep Reading Show less
Family
True
Gates Foundation: The Story of Food