Is it possible to neutralize a bacterium and make it harmless?

A team from the University of Geneva identified the factor that determines the infectivity of a bacterium resistant to many antibiotics and managed to neutralize it.

The Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a superbug that causes chronic and acute infections, potentially fatal for those with a weakened immune system. The strength of P. aeruginosa lies in its adaptability and resistance to many antibiotics, which makes it difficult to cure: some researchers from the University of Geneva have tried to circumvent this problem by developing not a new antibiotic, but by studying ways to neutralize the bacterium, reducing its infectious power. The research results were published in Nucleic Acids Research .

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Scientists focused on the so-called RNA-helicases, enzymes present in the genomes of almost all living beings (including bacteria) that are involved in many processes concerning the metabolism of RNA: “We wanted to understand what the role of RNA-helicases of the  P. aeruginosa , in particular in relation to the pathogenesis of bacteria ( ie the way in which bacteria infect the host, ed) and their adaptation to the environment », explains Martina Valentini, one of the authors.

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UNARMED. To do this, the scholars analyzed wax moths ( Galleria mellonella ), insects often used in the laboratory to investigate the host-pathogen relationship, observing that, when the bacterium with which they were infected did not have the RNA-helicases, it lost its infectious force. 80% of moths infected with unmodified P. aeruginosa died within 20 hours; in contrast, over 90% of the moths infected with the modified bacterium survived. “The modified bacteria became practically harmless while remaining alive,” says Stéphane Hausmann, head of the study.

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NEUTRALIZING IS BETTER THAN KILLING. But instead of neutralizing the bacterium, wouldn’t it be better to eliminate it altogether? The answer is no, because deactivating the factors that make a pathogen virulent means allowing the immune system of the host (us) to naturally neutralize the bacterium, reducing the risk of the bacterium developing resistance to antibiotics . “If we try to kill bacteria at all costs, they will adapt to survive, mutating into more resistant strains,” explains Valentini.

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