A New Approach To Tackle E. Coli Antibiotic Resistance

CHAOS, preventing E. coli antibiotic resistance

A Growing Concern

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are an increasingly dangerous threat, as the number of such bacteria is growing. A lot of the current research has been focused on developing new antibiotics, but a recent study from the University of Colorado Boulder has used a new method, genome editing.

E. Coli Bacterial Resistance

E. Coli Bacterial Resistance

Bacterial pathogens can naturally develop antibiotic-resistance, however, the misuse of antibiotics in various fields, including medicine and agriculture, has been speeding up this process artificially. Because of this, the World Health Organization (WHO), reports that antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to global health. Resultant infections from these super-bugs lead to negative health consequences: longer hospital admissions, more expensive costs, and increased mortality. Just in the US, there are 2 million antibiotic-resistant infections with 23,000 deaths occurring annually, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

E. coli

Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E.Coli is a pathogen that the general public are familiar with. It is not one on the global priority list of 12 antibiotic-resistant bacteria, published by the WHO in 2017; however, it can cause many illnesses, including intestinal infections, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, and even pneumonia. Because E.Coli is continually developing more antibiotic resistance, there is an increasing body of research focusing on the development of new antibiotics, different combinations, and new strategies to fight these potentially dangerous infections.


A research team detailed a new experimental approach to fighting E. coli using no antibiotic agents, in a study published in Communications Biology. The strategy instead focuses on using genetic disruption, coined “Controlled Hindrance of Adaptation of OrganismS (CHAOS).” This approach uses CRISPR, which is a genome editing technology, to affect gene expression in E. coli, allowing the researchers to stunt central processes in the bacteria, thus preventing it from evolving defenses to antibiotics.

The leading author, Peter Otoupal, Ph.D., stated that “we now have a way to cut off the evolutionary pathways of some of the nastiest bugs and potentially prevent future bugs from emerging at all.” The team progressed their research, initially focusing on 1 gene at a time. At this point, the bacteria were adaptable and survived. “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.”

By attacking multiple genes at once, the researchers found that E. coli became weaker and more susceptible to existing antibiotics. These results suggest a new approach and method in preventing the evolution and development of antibiotic resistance. Adapting these findings from the lab to clinical studies may take some time, but they show promise. Dr. Otoupal noted the lack of development of new strategies to tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance is concerning; there is a need for both research and development of new antibiotics. He envisions that this research may be used to supplement a last-resort antibiotic in the future.



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