Bacteria avoid antibiotics while they are in a “chaotic” state, Israeli scientists have found, suggesting that many lives can be saved by targeting these drug-avoiding germs.
A research team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem suggests that, in the face of antibiotics, some bacteria are trapped in a state of “chaos” in which cellular activity “deteriorates”.
In this state, the bacteria “do not follow any of the normal rules of cellular activity and do not act or disperse normally,” said biophysicist Prof. Nathalie Balaban to The Times of Israel. Then, when the course of antibiotics ends, they completely recover and regrow, she said, emphasizing that this pattern has not been documented so far.
She thinks her team’s finding, recently reviewed and published in Nature, could prove key to fighting infection, as it can trigger drug developers to work on a new class of antibiotics to fight bacteria that are in the “chaotic” state.
“We may need something from a different class of chemicals altogether,” Balaban said, adding that a successful drug could potentially save many lives.
“When you give a first dose of antibiotics to bacteria, some will be killed and others will remain in an interrupted or chaotic state that has not been studied before, remain in it, and therefore antibiotics will not work on the bacteria,” she said.
“Most antibiotics target bacteria that reproduce; in other words they are working on “happy,” growing bacteria, not those in the interrupted state we have documented. “
Balaban, along with her colleague Prof. Oded Agam and doctoral student Yoav Kaplan, observed and documented this state of bacteria working in their laboratory with individual E. coli strain cells, bacteria commonly used in laboratory-experimental work.
As well as avoiding antibiotics and preventing patient recovery, the researchers believe that temperate bacteria can cause part of the problem of antibiotic resistance.
“It’s not commonly understood how resistance happens, and we think that this disrupted state can cause bacteria to get mutations and become resistant,” Balaban said.
“These bacteria can contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance, and if this is the case, understanding their mechanism can move us one step closer to finding new solutions to the problem.”