Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Waiting it Out

How bacteria persist without becoming antibiotic resistant

23 April 2021

Waiting it Out

Bacteria scheming their way past antibiotic treatments know that there’s often more than one way around a challenge. As well as antibiotic resistance – the increasing problem of bacteria adapting to repel antibiotics – some bacteria develop subgroups that simply wait out the antibiotic presence, persisting until the path is clear to expand again. Staphylococcus aureus causes a range of serious diseases, and can often withstand antibiotic treatment (pictured, with dead bacteria in red and surviving bacteria in green after treatment in a mouse). A new study has shown that the acidic environment created when cells are under stress combined with antibiotic exposure leads to a sub-population of the bacteria undergoing molecular changes and becoming dormant, hibernating until it’s safe to reactivate. The researchers then trialled a treatment targeting this sleeping beast, potentially pointing the way for new approaches to prevent persistent infections for good.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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