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New Undetectable Mechanism Of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Discovered

Finding how some bacteria are able to resist antibiotic treatment could help tackle the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance.

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Charlie Haigh

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Charlie Haigh

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Charlie is the social media and marketing assistant for IFLScience, she’s currently completing a undergraduate degree in Forensic Psychology.

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Pharmacist holding medicine box and capsule pack in pharmacy drugstore.

AMR is thought to be a greater risk to society than COVID-19. Image credit: i viewfinder / Shutterstock

A new mechanism that enables bacteria to form resistance to antibiotics has been discovered in a recent study conducted by researchers in Perth, Australia. In a process currently undetectable using traditional laboratory testing methods, the team observed the bacteria group A Streptococcus – the cause of strep throat – absorbing nutrients from the host organism that, in turn, enable them to bypass antibiotic treatment.

For bacteria to grow and multiply, they produce folates. Bacteriostatic antibiotics work to stop the bacteria’s ability to produce these folates, thus disabling their ability to multiply. The group A Streptococcus bacteria observed in the study, however, were seen to be using folates from the host when their own folate production was inhibited, causing a resistance to treatment from bacteriostatic antibiotics and likely making any infection worse.

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The human body cannot become resistant to antimicrobial treatments. Rather, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) refers to bacteria or fungi’s resistance to antibiotics or antifungals, respectively. AMR is thought to pose a serious and rapidly growing threat to society.

"AMR is a silent pandemic of much greater risk to society than COVID-19 – in addition to 10 million deaths per year by 2050, the World Health Organization estimates AMR will cost the global economy $100 trillion if we can't find a way to combat antibiotic failure," said leader of the research team Dr Timothy Barnett, head of the Strep A Pathogenesis and Diagnostics team at the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases, in a statement.

"Without antibiotics, we face a world where there will be no way to stop deadly infections, cancer patients won't be able to have chemotherapy and people won't have access to have life-saving surgeries,” Barnett continued.

As a result of the detection of this new host-dependent resistance, researchers are able to investigate further into mechanisms for rapidly detecting these strains of bacteria. “We hope to develop rapid point-of-care tests that can be used in remote settings where group A strep infections are endemic," said Kalindu Rodrigo, first author of the study. 

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"It is vital we stay one step ahead of the challenges of AMR, and as researchers, we should continue to explore how resistance develops in pathogens and design rapid accurate diagnostic methods and therapeutics.”

The study is published in Nature.


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