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New one-two punch brings down bacteria

Medicine@Yale, 2011 - Nov Dec


Recent experiments in which stretches of proteins and genetic material are inserted into bacteria to silence genes have shown great promise as a means of treating bacterial infection. By inactivating genes such as those a bacterium needs to copy its genome, or those that help it to resist antibiotics, the method can kill the cells directly or make them more vulnerable to antibiotic drugs.

Yale scientists have now developed a technique that gets these molecules into bacterial cells more efficiently, making the procedure more effective than ever. The new method, which was developed in the laboratory of Nobel laureate Sidney Altman, Ph.D., Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and professor of chemistry, combines a fragment of protein based on a molecule in human immune cells with a stretch of genetic material that can bind to and inactivate a bacterial gene.

In the October 4, 2011, issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Altman’s team reports that when they used the method to inactivate genes that underlie bacterial resistance to the antibiotics penicillin and chloramphenicol, it was as much as a hundred times more effective than similar compounds tested thus far.