Eat bugs and live longer

July 19, 1996

Swallowing live bacteria could be the key to fighting antibiotic resistance, scientists were told at a meeting to discuss the realisation that a crucial step in the development of antibiotic resistance has been ignored, writes Aisling Irwin.

Stuart Levy, director of the Centre for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance, in Boston, told the Ciba Foundation symposium that benign bacteria in gut and skin may be catalysts of resistance. These bacteria benefit us, for example by breaking down food, but are often depleted as a side-effect of taking antibiotics.

Professor Levy said the fact that these bacteria are also becoming antibiotic resistant has been ignored. They then pass resistance, by gene exchange, to foreign bacteria. Benign bacteria "are part of the puzzle that has not been addressed. We think they are the key reservoir".

"We could take tablets of susceptible bacteria to reestablish susceptible flora". These would pass their genes on to disease-causing bacteria.

One obstacle is scientists' ignorance about benign bacteria. "We probably only know about 1 per cent of them," he said.

* Michael Cohen, of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends regular handwashing as the best way to combat superbugs. There are now more people with depressed immune systems, who are more likely to be carrying infections, he said.

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