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Superbugs and New Bacterial Treatment: Antibiotic Alternative

Jun 30, 2015 06:51 PM EDT

As antibiotics grow more resistant to treatment and killing microbial infections becomes more difficult, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University felt the need to develop a new means to eliminate deadly bacteria without using antibiotics, a MIT release said.

The technology they have developed uses bioengineered particles, phagemids. These microorganisms produce toxins that are especially deadly to bacteria.They're based on the concept of bacteriophages, viruses that can kill bacteria by infecting them. The MIT and Harvard researchers recently published their research online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The challenge, though, has been to create microorganisms that imitate bacteriophages without doing what they sometimes do: eliminate bacteria by causing the cell to burst--which can result in infection of the blood, or death, according to the MIT release.

In early research, Collins and his team bioengineered bacteriophages that improved the effectiveness of the antibiotics that were being used to treat the bacteria. From there, they developed a technology that would eliminate specific bacteria, but would not cause cells to burst, as Tech Times reported.

The researchers produced phagemids by using synthetic biology techniques. The particles are designed to kill bacteria by infecting it with DNA molecules called plasmids, which will replicate the host cell. Plasmids then express different proteins from within the bacteria cell, causing it to die, but not replicate or burst, as the MIT release said.

The new antibacterial technology is highly targeted, says Collins, according to the release-because phagemids will only attack specific bacterial species. This could mean that the system can be used for infection therapy.

The new technology has been tested on E.coli, but the researchers hope to produce phagemids that can eliminate pathogens, such as Clostridium difficile and the bacterium Vibrio cholerea, the Harvard release said.

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