Texas A&M researchers receive grant funding to defeat antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Published: May. 5, 2021 at 10:42 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - Researchers at Texas A&M recently received grant funding that will help them study ways to neutralize antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The research involved viruses called phages that are used to disarm bacteria instead of kill them. Dr. Lanying Zeng and her team are looking at how they can suppress parts of certain bacteria that help them reproduce.

”Suppose you can just disarm them, right? You kind of just cut off their tool, and then they become harmless,” Zeng said. “That’s the uniqueness of our method.”

These phages infect the bacteria through the bacteria’s long appendages called pili. The specific pili that the phages target are what help the bacteria mate and reproduce. When the bacteria is infected by this particular virus, the pili essentially become detached from the cell surface.

“This is one of the major tools for bacteria to disseminate their antibiotic-resistant genes,” Zeng said. “When the bacteria mate, it will transfer that gene to the other bacteria when they mate. We need to find out a way that we can eliminate or reduce the spread of this antibiotic resistance.”

Zeng says another reason their method appears to be more effective than traditional phagotherapy is that it doesn’t kill the bacteria it targets and infects. That’s significant because most bacteria contain dangerous toxins.

“When you kill bacteria, they kind of burst,” Zeng said. “Then they release the toxins into the host, which is not good. Our method keeps the bacteria intact, so the toxins stay inside the bacteria but remain harmless. We think this is a really unique way we can manipulate the pathogens.”

Zeng says these viruses can be used to help prevent bacteria from becoming more resistant to antibiotics.

“From our finding, the single-strain RNA phages can detach the pili, and it basically means the bacteria cannot spread their genes,” Zeng said. “I think that’s very important that we can provide this tool to stop the transfer of the antibiotic-resistant gene.”

The exploratory grant from the National Institutes of Health awarded Zeng and her team $400,000 over two years.

Copyright 2021 KBTX. All rights reserved.