Researchers use CRISPR gene editing to disrupt antibiotic-resistance in bacteria

The method doesn’t make permanent genome changes, affecting expression of bacterial genes instead

An encouraging new study from researchers at University of Colorado has shown that disrupting multiple bacterial genes at once is a successful strategy to use against deadly superbugs and emerging antibiotic-resistance in bacteria.

The study was published in Communications Biology on Monday, and widens the scope of using genetic tools to address the growing antibiotic resistance problem by limiting the organism's functioning.

The newly-discovered approach, called Controlled Hindrance of Adaptation of OrganismS (CHAOS) uses the gene-editing tool CRISPR to alter multiple genes in bacterial cells to impair its core functioning abilities.

This cripples some of the central processes in the bacteria — the cell’s defence mechanisms being an important one.

Researchers have developed a combination of “kill switch” genes in Escherichia coli for the approach.

When a single gene in the group is switched off, the bacteria appears to be able to cope, compensate and survive. But on tweaking a combination of 2 or more of these genes, the bacteria got weaker and more sensitive to antibiotic treatments.

Representational Image. Reuters

Representational Image. Reuters

“We saw that when we tweaked multiple gene expressions at the same time —even genes that would seemingly help the bacteria survive — the bacteria’s fitness dropped dramatically,” Peter Otoupal, lead author of the study said to University Press.

Using this technique doesn’t alter the genome of the bacteria itself, but how the genes are expressed by the cell.

“This method offers tremendous potential to create more effective combinatorial approaches,” Anushree Chatterjee, senior author of the study, said to University Press.

The researchers explain that the method could be further optimized for more efficient disruptions — something the team is pursuing in ongoing research.

“In the past, nobody really considered that it might be possible to slow down evolution,” Otoupal said.

“But like anything else, evolution has rules and we’re starting to learn how to use them to our advantage.”

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