The multitude of microbes scientists have found populating the human body have good, bad and mostly mysterious implications for our health. But when something goes wrong, we defend ourselves with the undiscriminating brute force of traditional antibiotics, which wipe out everything at once, regardless of the consequences.
Researchers at Rockefeller University and their collaborators are working on smarter antibiotic. And in research published October 5 in Nature Biotechnology, the team describes a ‘programmable’ antibiotic technique that selectively targets the bad bugs, particularly those harboring antibiotic resistance genes, while leaving other, more innocent microbes alone.
“In experiments, we succeeded in instructing a bacterial enzyme, known as Cas9, to target a particular DNA sequence and cut it up,” says lead researcher Luciano Marraffini, head of the Laboratory of Bacteriology. “This selective approach leaves the healthy microbial community intact, and our experiments suggest that by doing so you can keep resistance in check and so prevent certain types of secondary infections, eliminating two serious hazards associated with treatment by classical antibiotics.”
The new approach could, for instance, reduce the risk of C. diff, a severe infection of the colon, caused by the Clostridium difficile bacterium, that is associated with prolonged courses of harsh antibiotics and is a growing public health concern.
The Cas9 enzyme is part of a defense system that bacteria use to protect themselves against viruses. The team co-opted this bacterial version of an immune system, known as a CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) system and turned it against some of the microbes.
CRISPR systems contain unique genetic sequences called spacers that correspond to sequences in viruses. CRISPR-associated enzymes, including Cas9, use these spacer sequences as guides to identify and destroy viral invaders.
The researchers directed Cas9 at targets of their choosing by engineering spacer sequences to match bacterial genes and then inserting these sequences into a cell along with the gene for Cas9. The cell’s own machinery then turns on the system. Depending on the location of the target in a bacterial cell, Cas9 may kill the cell or it may eradicate the target gene. In some cases, a treatment may prevent a cell from acquiring resistance, they found.
“We previously showed that if Cas9 is programmed with a target from a bacterial genome, it will kill the bacteria. Building on that work, we selected guide sequences that enabled us to selectively kill a particular strain of microbe from within a mixed population,” says first author David Bikard, a former Rockefeller postdoc who is now at the Pasteur Institute in Paris.
In initial experiments, Bikard and colleagues targeted a strain of the common skin and respiratory bacteria Staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to the antibiotic kanamycin. Treatment by Cas9 programmed to target a part of the resistance gene killed most of the resistant Staph, but left behind the kanamycin-susceptible Staph.
Targeted bacterial genocide is only one option. Bacteria share genes, including those conferring drug resistance, in the form of rings of DNA known as plasmids. In a second series of experiments, researchers turned Cas9 on tetracycline resistance-harboring plasmids in a strain of the potentially deadly multidrug resistant bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Not only did the resistant cells become sensitive to tetracycline after Cas9 destroyed the plasmids, but the arrival of Cas9 in other Staph cells acted as an immunization, preventing them from taking on resistance-carrying plasmids.
And, in a final set of experiments, conducted in collaboration with Vincent Fischetti’s Laboratory of Bacterial Pathogenesis and Immunology, Chad Euler confirmed their test tube results on living skin, by using Cas9 to selectively kill kanamycin-resistant Staph infecting the shaved backs of mice.
In spite of the promising results, the delivery system needs improvement. The researchers used bacteria-infecting viruses to inject the programmed Cas9 enzymes into the bacterial cells, but these viruses only attack specific types of cells. Scientists need to devise a less discriminating method of delivery, before the technology can be used to develop a new class of antibiotics, Marraffini says.
In addition to its potential as a much-needed new weapon against drug-resistant microbes, the new system could also be used to advance research on the complex populations of microbes in the body, about which very little is known. “There are enormous microbial communities in the human body,” Marraffini says. “Programmable Cas9 enzymes may make it possible to analyze these populations by eliminating their members, one by one, and studying the effects.”
A National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award funded this research.
Zach Veilleux | newswise
Individual Receptors Caught at Work
19.10.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Rapid environmental change makes species more vulnerable to extinction
19.10.2017 | Universität Zürich
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy