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Four ways to tackle antibiotic resistance

It’s European Antibiotic Awareness Day today, and the MRC, BBSRC and EPSRC have produced a new timeline looking at progress in tackling antibiotic resistance over the past few decades. Here we’ve picked just four examples ― from glowing infections to a smartphone app ― reflecting the four themes of a cross-research council antimicrobial resistance funding call to give you a taster of research in this area.

Mouse colon infected with Citrobacter rodentium

(Image: S.Schuller, Wellcome Images under CC by 4.0)

Germs that glow

Being able to observe how bacteria and other bugs move around the body is crucial to knowing how to tackle them. In an MRC-funded study, Professor Gad Frankel at Imperial College London developed a way to infect mice with Citrobacter rodentium bacteria that had been genetically modified to produce light. [1] His team could then track this glowing infection around the mouse’s body in real time, and regular CT scans showed how different vaccines and antibiotics change the way bacteria take over parts of the body.

Bacteriophages surrounding a bacterial cell

(Image: Dr Graham Beards, public domain)

Infecting bugs with bugs

Alternatives to antibiotics are needed if we are to tackle resistance once and for all. A team led by MRC-funded researcher Dr Martha Clokie at the University of Leicester has isolated 40 different bacteriophages — viruses that ‘eat’ bacteria — against hospital superbug C. difficile. US pharmaceutical company AmpliPhi Biosciences Corporation are funding the further development of these phages.

A leafcutter ant carrying a leaf

(Image: Scott Bauer US Department of Agriculture under CC BY 2.5)

An unusual source of antibiotics

Bacteria carried on the surface of leafcutter ants produce a range of antimicrobial compounds, according to a study by BBSRC and MRC-funded researchers from the University of East Anglia, JIC, and The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC). These antimicrobials help the ants cultivate a fungus that provides them with food, protecting their nest against infection and controlling competing strains of fungi. [3]

A hand holding a smartphone with IAPP on it

(Image copyright: Imperial College London)

An app for that

The Imperial Antibiotic Prescribing Policy (IAPP) smartphone app has been developed by Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust’s antibiotic review group and the UKCRC Centre for Infection Prevention and Management. The app helps healthcare professionals choose the most appropriate course of treatment to ensure antimicrobials are prescribed appropriately.

Each of these examples corresponds to one of the four themes of Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance – A Cross-Council Initiative.

References

[1] 4D Multimodality Imaging of Citrobacter rodentium Infections in Mice Journal of Visualised Experiments (2013) doi: 10.3791/50450

[2] Bacteria-eating viruses ‘magic bullets in the war on superbugs’ University of Leicester press release, 2013

[3] A mixed community of actinomycetes produce multiple antibiotics for the fungus farming ant Acromyrmex octospinosus BMC Biology (2010) doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-109

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