Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Iron-clad Resistance

Levels of an iron-rich pigment pyocyanin in bacteria increase with antibiotic resistance

18 February 2020

Iron-clad Resistance

Drug resistant ‘superbugs’ are a fast-growing threat to global health due to the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, and urgent action is needed to tackle the problem. Discovering new antibiotics is one solution, but bacteria will still develop resistance in a relatively short time. As an alternative strategy, researchers are trying to understand how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics in the first place. These test tubes contain cultures of Pseudomonas aeruginosa – notorious superbugs that infect open wounds and can cause severe lung infections in people with cystic fibrosis – grown in increasing concentrations of the antibiotic kanamycin (left to right). Intriguingly, the bacteria produce increasing amounts of a green iron-rich pigment called pyocyanin as antibiotic levels rise, which seems to help them become resistant to the drug. Developing drugs that interfere with pyocyanin production could therefore be a good way to prevent Pseudomonas from developing resistance to many commonly used antibiotics.

Written by Kat Arney

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