Research demonstrates how a biosensor can detect antibiotic
resistance in bacteria. This new technology is a preliminary step in
identifying and fighting superbugs, a major public health concern that has led
to more deaths than Aids in recent years.
The technology is the result of collaboration between Dr.
Vitaly Vodyanoy at Auburn University and the Keesler Air Force Base with
funding from the United States Air Force.
Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch first characterised
antibiosis, the ability for a chemical to kill bacterial cells, in 1877. Since
then, the medical and biochemical communities have made great advances in the
treatment of bacterial infections. These advances have helped reduce childhood
mortality and have contributed to the population growth of the 20th Century.
However, natural selection has allowed antibiotic resistant
bacteria to flourish and propagate, and continued exposure has lead to the
evolution of "superbugs" that are resistant to multiple types of
"Antibiotic resistant bacteria is a serious
problem," Dr. Vodyanoy says. "It is very important [when treating a
patient] to distinguish between normal and resistant bacteria; if you have a
case of resistance you have to take special measures to cure it."
Dr. Vodyanoy's technology takes advantage of bacteriophages,
simple viruses that can target and kill bacteria. A bacteriophage, when
combined with specific antibodies, can be used to produce a physical colour
change in a sample that indicates antibiotic resistance. This technology will
be invaluable to clinicians trying to treat patients and disinfect hospital
Specifically, this technique targets antibiotic resistant
Staphylococcus, one of the first pathogens characterized as a superbug.
Staphylococcus, commonly referred to as staph, often is a bothersome skin
condition cured with common antibiotics. However, variations of the staph
bacteria can turn deadly when infecting immune-compromised patients or internal
organs like lungs and the respiratory tract. The disease is of particular
concern to hospitals, prisons, and branches of the military, where individuals
are at risk for infection from unhygienic close quarters.
"In our method, we can determine bacterial antibiotic
resistance in 10-12 minutes, while other methods take hours," Dr. Vodyanoy
explains. Alternative methods used to detect antibiotic resistance need
time-intensive purification steps before multi-hour sequencing protocols.
"We envision a future where clinicians do tests with real blood or saliva
samples. The virus is completely benign to humans, and we hope to use it to
make antimicrobial surfaces and glassware that kill the bacteria."
"Our technique is complex and involves many steps and
disciplines. It is very difficult to visualize when you read a paper, and we
felt it would be very beneficial and educational to publish [in JoVE],"
Dr. Vodyanoy says of publishing in the world's first video journal. "We
are interested in someone else reproducing our results; this technology can be
used on a larger scale and for antibiotic resistance other than