Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a modern-day scourge, with more lives lost in the US to these superbugs than are lost to AIDS. One bacteria alone, MRSA, accounts for 19,000 deaths every year. Identifying these strains is key to combating and stopping their spread through the population. Currently, testing takes hours using complicated purification techniques.
However there is hope on the horizon. A team of researchers at Auburn University have just developed a new technique for identifying these superbugs – and they did it by using something else that causes us humans all sorts of problems. They used a virus. Specifically, they used viruses known as bacteriophages that are completely benign to humans but as their name suggests not so friendly to bacteria. The team used simple bacteriophages that change color when exposed to drug-resistant bacteria but remained neutral for other bacteria.
Rather than taking hours like the existing purification method, the Auburn team’s identification system takes just minutes. This speed difference could provide a much faster response time for treating patients or disinfecting hospitals. “In our method, we can determine bacterial antibiotic resistance in 10-12 minutes, while other methods take hours,” said lead author Dr. Vitaly Vodyanoy statement. Also, Vodyanoy’s method could be as simple as a saliva swab. This new technique could help us dig out of the hole we’ve put ourselves in with the overuse of antibiotics. While still testing, the practical applications of this method cannot come soon enough.