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

Mom and blogger Mary Katherine Backstrom regularly shares snippets of life with her two children on her Facebook page. One particularly touching interaction with her daughter is melting hearts and blowing minds due to the three-year-old's wise words about forgiveness.

Even adults struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Entire books have been written about how and why to forgive those who have wronged us, but many still have a hard time getting it. Who would guess that a preschooler could encapsulate what forgiveness means in a handful of innocent words?

Keep Reading Show less
Family

California has a housing crisis. Rent is so astronomical, one San Francisco company is offering bunk bedsfor $1,200 a month; Google even pledged$1 billion to help tackle the issue in the Bay Area. But the person who might fix it for good? Kanye West.

The music mogul first announced his plan to build low-income housing on Twitter late last year.

"We're starting a Yeezy architecture arm called Yeezy home. We're looking for architects and industrial designers who want to make the world better," West tweeted.

Keep Reading Show less
Cities

The U.S. women's soccer team won the Women's World Cup, but the victory is marred by the fact that the team is currently fighting for equal pay. In soccer, the game is won by scoring points, but the fight for equal pay isn't as clearly winnable and the playing field isn't as even.

We live in a world where winning the World Cup is easier than winning equal pay, but co-captain Megan Rapinoe says there's one easy way fans can support the team: Go see games.

Some people argue the men's team deserves to get paid more because they are more successful and earn more money for the United States Soccer Federation. Pay depends on merchandise and ticket sales, and in general, men's sporting events tend to draw a bigger crowd than women's sporting events. It's not about sex, many argue; it's about the fact that people just prefer to see men play.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

You think you know someone pretty well when you spend years with them, but, as we've seen time and again, that's not always the case. And though many relationships don't get to a point where the producers of "Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?" start calling every day just to chat, the reality is that sometimes partners will reveal shocking things even after you thought you'd been all shocked out.

That's the case for one woman whose Reddit thread has recently gone viral. The 25-year-old, who's been with her boyfriend for five years, took to a forum for relationship advice to ask if it was normal that her seemingly cool and loving boyfriend recently revealed women shouldn't have a fundamental right. (And no, it's not abortion — although there are a lot of "otherwise best ever boyfriends" out there who want to deny women the rights to bodily autonomy, too.)

Keep Reading Show less
Recommended