It’s far from certain that we can win the war against drug-resistant superbugs by developing more antibiotics – but another line of defence could be the recruitment of 'friendly bacteria' to our side. In a laboratory experiment, scientists noticed that some mice exposed to harmful bacteria were more resistant than others to muscle wasting, a common and dangerous effect of serious infection. The resistant mice were found to have friendly bacteria, a kind of Escherichia coli (E. coli), in their gut, which migrated to fat tissue during infection and stimulated production of a growth hormone called IGF-1. This helped to maintain healthy muscle, boosting the animal’s ability to survive. When oral doses of E. coli were given to other mice, they developed resistance to muscle wasting during potentially lethal infections by Salmonella typhimurium (pictured right) and Burkholderia thailandensis (left). Now, the hunt is on for similar ‘double agent’ bacteria in humans.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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