Probiotic drink could combat bugs by ‘blocking DNA molecules that carry antibiotic-resistant genes

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A probiotic drink could help combat superbugs such by eliminating their resistance to antibiotics, according to researchers. 

The drink, yet to be developed, would target DNA molecules inside bacterial cells which help bugs repel drugs. 

The particles, known as plasmids, can carry genes that give resistance to antibiotics, which the bacteria are able to use.

Plasmids replicate on their own, spreading between bugs such as salmonella and E. coli and carrying resistance genes with them. 

University of Birmingham scientists made their own plasmid to stop the particles from making copies of themselves.

It meant there were fewer resistance genes available to the bacteria. Tests showed that this process effectively ‘re-sensitised’ them to antibiotics.   

Antibiotic resistance is thought to have emerged following decades of GPs and hospital staff unnecessarily handing out antibiotics to patients. 

As a result, it is thought superbugs could kill 10million people each year by 2050 as patients succumb to previously harmless bugs.  

Probiotic products contain live bacteria which are thought to be good for you by helping to restore the natural balance in your gut.  

The possible new drink, which the researchers are now seeking funding for a clinical trial for, would be similar to popular probiotics such as Yakult and Actimel.   

But Professor Christopher Thomas and his team said it would contain good bacteria with a new type of plasmid, called pCURE. 

Tests showed that doubling the number of the new plasmids in each bacterium could lead to the dispersion of the resistance plasmids. 

The pCURE plasmids then spread through laboratory cultures unaided, to clear out the resistance.

In addition, preventing resistance plasmids from replicating allows bacteria to grow and divide without them becoming resistant to antibiotics. 

It was not made clear what type of bacteria the researchers tested on.  

The team then collaborated with scientists at the University of Sydney to test the pCURE plasmids in mice. 

They found that the new particles worked effectively but needed to be ‘primed’ by giving the mice an initial dose of antibiotic to reduce the number of competing bacteria.  

The next step is to see if the pCURE plasmids can spread fast enough in human volunteers to get rid of resistance. 

Professor Thomas said: ‘We were able to show that if you can stop the plasmid from replicating, then most of the bacteria lose the plasmid as the bacteria grow and divide. 

‘This means that infections that might otherwise be hard to control, even with the most powerful antibiotics available, are more likely to be treatable with standard antibiotics.’ 

He added: ‘This is a promising start. We aim to make modifications to further improve the efficacy of our pCURE plasmids before moving towards a first clinical trial.’

‘Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest medical challenges of our time.

‘We need to be tackling this on a number of different fronts including by reducing our use of antibiotics and searching for new, more effective drugs. 

‘Our approach, which tackles one of the causes of antimicrobial resistance at a genetic level, could be an important new weapon in this battle.’

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