Magazine article USA TODAY

"Bad" Bacteria Proves Helpful. (Antibiotics)

Magazine article USA TODAY

"Bad" Bacteria Proves Helpful. (Antibiotics)

Article excerpt

The world is full of all kinds of bacteria--good, bad, and innocuous. Most often, it's the bad bacteria that catch our attention with their health-stealing antics. Yet, sometimes, as the old adage goes, it takes a thief to catch a thief. By hijacking the biosynthetic machinery of bacteria, scientists can create antibiotics to kill the bad bacteria that rob us of our vitality. Genetic engineers at Stanford (Calif.) University have inserted the largest working genes to date into the E. coil bacterium, transforming this run-of-the-mill microbe into an organism that can churn out new precursors of erythromycin, a broad-spectrum antibiotic and penicillin substitute, thus demonstrating a powerful tool for developing novel antibiotics to combat bacteria that have become resistant to overused ones.

Traditionally, manufacturers make erythromycin commercially through fermentation, using the soil bacterium Saccharopolyspora erythraea. The process is hard to scale up, creating a bottleneck in the drug-development process. S. erythraea grows slowly--a population of this bacterial strain takes four hours to double in number. A population of E. coli, in contrast, only takes 20 minutes to double. That, plus the fact that a great deal is already known about E. …

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