Minggu, 18 Juli 2010

Using Bacteria to Fight Bacteria

A recent article in the New York Times is a good primer on the astonishing variety of bacteria that colonize our bodies, and what they may be doing there. It turns out that our individual microbiomes (all of the microbes in a defined environment within our bodies) are quite different. And at any one time, each of us probably has only about 20% of the species of bacteria that can inhabit the human body.

An interesting new idea is that the “good” bacteria in certain people’s microbiomes might actually be used to treat certain diseases. Doctors have actually cured several stubborn cases of severe diarrhea caused by a particularly difficult bacterium to treat (Clostridium difficile) by transplanting human fecal matter from a healthy person into the patients’ colons! Granted, having a fecal transplant in order to cure disease sounds a bit strange. But apparently the “good” bacteria in the fecal transplant outcompete the C. difficile and wipe them out.

Someday maybe there’ll be ointments or pills containing especially “good” bacteria for treating certain antibiotic-resistant infections such as flesh-eating Staphylococcus aureus or diarrhea-causing C. difficile. Using bacteria to kill bacteria – like using fire to fight fire.

Reference: Zimmer, C., How Microbes Defend and Define Us. New York Times, July 13, 2010.

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