Gene editing tool could help reduce spread of antimicrobial resistance
25 May 2023
A new tool which could help reduce the spread of antimicrobial resistance is showing early promise, through exploiting a bacterial immune system as a gene editing tool.
Antimicrobial resistance is a major global threat, with nearly five million deaths annually resulting from antibiotics failing to treat infection, according to the World Health Organisation.
Bacteria often develop resistance when resistant genes are transported between hosts. One way that this occurs is via plasmids – circular strands of DNA, which can spread easily between bacteria, and swiftly replicate. This can occur in our bodies, and in environmental settings, such as waterways.
The Exeter team harnessed the CRISPR-Cas gene editing system, which can target specific sequences of DNA, and cuts through them when they are encountered. The researchers engineered a plasmid which can specifically target the resistance gene for Gentamicin – a commonly used antibiotic.
In laboratory experiments, the new research, published in Microbiology, found that the plasmid protected its host cell from developing resistance. Furthermore, researchers found that the plasmid effectively targeted antimicrobial resistant genes in hosts to which it transferred, reversing their resistance.
Lead author David Walker-Sünderhauf, of the University of Exeter, said: “Antimicrobial resistance threatens to outstrip covid in terms of the number of global deaths. We urgently need new ways to stop resistance spreading between hosts. Our technology is showing early promise to eliminate resistance in a wide range of different bacteria. Our next step is to conduct experiments in more complex microbial communities. We hope one day it could be a way to reduce the spread of antimicrobial resistance in environments such as sewage treatment plants, which we know are breeding grounds for resistance.”
The research is supported by GW4, the Medical Research Council, the Lister Institute, and JPI-AMR. The paper is entitled ‘Removal of AMR plasmids using a mobile, broad host-range, CRISPR-Cas9 delivery tool’, and is published in Microbiology.
NOTES TO EDITORS
The paper 'Removal of AMR plasmids using a mobile, broad host- range CRISPR- Cas9 delivery tool' by David Walker- Sünderhauf, Uli Klümper, Elizabeth Pursey, Edze R. Westra, William H. Gaze and Stineke van Houte is published in Microbiology at the following URL: https://www.microbiologyresearch.org/content/journal/micro/10.1099/mic.0.001334
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About the Microbiology Society
The Microbiology Society is a membership charity for scientists interested in microbes, their effects and their practical uses. It has a worldwide membership based in universities, industry, hospitals, research institutes, schools, and other organisations. Find out more at microbiologysociety.org. For further information please contact [email protected]
About the University of Exeter
The University of Exeter is a Russell Group university that combines world-class research with high levels of student satisfaction. Exeter has over 30,000 students and sits within the Top 15 universities in The Guardian University Guide 2023, and in the top 150 globally in both the QS World Rankings 2022 and THE World University Rankings 2023. In the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF), more than 99% of our research were rated as being of international quality, and our world-leading research impact has grown by 72% since 2014, more than any other Russell Group university.
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