Weeding Out Bacteria
By Kristen Philipkoski, MIT Technology Review, December 21, 2004
Slimy plant life floating around the ocean may hold the key to slowing down the spread of certain infections, and could lead to a new strain of drugs that won’t be susceptible to antibiotic resistance, a problem the Centers for Disease Control calls one of its top concerns.
University of New South Wales researchers found that seaweed compounds, called furanones, can stop the bacteria that cause cholera by cutting off the communication systems enabling the disease to spread. The breakthrough has researchers speculating that furanones will likely also work against other bacteria, including those that cause staph infection, food poisoning and tuberculosis — which are increasingly becoming resistant to some antibiotics.
According to the CDC, every year nearly two million people in the United States get infections in the hospital, and 90,000 die. And 70 percent of the bacteria that cause these infections are resistant to at least one antibiotic.
But researchers say bacteria won’t have an incentive to develop mutations that will foil furanones because they don’t actually kill bacteria, only block their communication with each other, which prevents them from growing strong enough to cause problems.