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R&D Magazine - What bacteria don't know can hurt them

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Published: 17 Nov 2011

Many infections, even those caused by antibiotic-sensitive bacteria, resist treatment. This paradox has vexed physicians for decades, and makes some infections impossible to cure.

Many infections, even those caused by antibiotic-sensitive bacteria, resist treatment. This paradox has vexed physicians for decades, and makes some infections impossible to cure. A key cause of this resistance is that bacteria become starved for nutrients during infection. Starved bacteria resist killing by nearly every type of antibiotic, even ones they have never been exposed to before.

What produces starvation-induced antibiotic resistance, and how can it be overcome? In a paper appearing this week in Science, researchers report some surprising answers. "Bacteria become starved when they exhaust nutrient supplies in the body, or if they live clustered together in groups know as biofilms," said the lead author of the paper, Dr. Dao Nguyen, an assistant professor of medicine at McGill University.

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