In recent years, new strains of bacteria have emerged that resist even the most powerful antibiotics. Each year, these superbugs, including drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis and staphylococcus, infect more than 2 million people nationwide, and kill at least 23,000. Despite the urgent need for new treatments, scientists have discovered very few new classes of antibiotics in the past decade.
MIT engineers have now turned a powerful new weapon on these superbugs. Using a gene-editing system that can disable any target gene, they have shown that they can selectively kill bacteria carrying harmful genes that confer antibiotic resistance or cause disease.
Led by Timothy Lu, an associate professor of biological engineering and electrical engineering and computer science, the researchers described their findings in the Sept. 21 issue of Nature Biotechnology. Last month, Lu’s lab reported a different approach to combating resistant bacteria by identifying combinations of genes that work together to make bacteria more susceptible to antibiotics.