Superbug's hidden weakness

04 July 2019
Presented by Heather Jameson.

BACTERIA CELLS

purple bacteria cells on a green background

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If you have ever had an overnight stay in hospital, you may have had a swab taken from your nose or armpit beforehand, to check if you are carrying MRSA: methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. This is an antibiotic-resistant strain of the Staph aureus bacterium that commonly lives on the skin and in the front part of the nose. In these places it is usually harmless, but if it gets into an open wound it can cause a serious - and even lethal - infection.

However, in a recent study, a team of researchers in Cambridge were surprised to find an isolate of MRSA, that is a particular isolated strain of the bacteria, which could be combatted using a combination of two widely available drugs. At first, they thought this might be just a fluke, but after a bit of investigating they found that actually quite a large number of MRSA isolates had this hidden weakness.  And now, in a new study published this week, scientists have identified exactly which genes make the bacteria susceptible by sequencing the genome of the bacteria. This new method that they have demonstrated could be used more widely in future, to find hidden weaknesses in other nasty superbugs. Heather Jameson spoke to  Dr Ewan Harrison, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute to find out more…
 

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