Tiny machines made of DNA ‘origami’ can boost the effectiveness of antibiotics and halt the rise of superbugs, say University of Cambridge researchers. The microscopic devices are crafted from intricately folded strands of DNA, forcing bacteria into contact with the drugs. Studies have shown the technique slowed the growth rate of two common bugs.
DNA stores the genetic information of living things. Today’s science advances are also allowing it to be manipulated for other purposes. DNA origami is the term given to a technique where it is folded into intricate 3D structures to make any pattern. It can also be crafted into the exact shape needed to bind it to other molecules, like a key fitting into a lock.
The Cambridge researchers created microscopic devices that were flat platforms of DNA with five ‘hooks’ sticking out from the edges. Each hook had DNA designed to bind to E. coli or Bacillus subtilis bacteria, which can cause infections such as meningitis and septicaemia. The hooks were also loaded with two molecules of lysozyme, an enzyme that kills bacteria trying to enter our body, which is found in tears, saliva and sweat.
When bacteria were exposed to the folded DNA strands, they grew more slowly than when exposed to lysozyme alone, reports New Scientist.
An end to antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance has come about because the drugs have been over-prescribed and people often take incorrect doses.
Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies claimed in 2016 that the threat of antibiotic resistance is as severe as terrorism. Figures estimate that superbugs will kill 10 million people each year by 2050, with patients succumbing to once harmless bugs.
Already, around 700,000 people die every year across the world due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis, HIV and malaria.
In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years. Without antibiotics, surgical operations, caesarean sections and cancer treatments will become incredibly risky.
The University of Cambridge researchers say that the folded DNA method could allow lower doses of antibiotics to be doled to patients, sparing them side effects such as vomiting and loss of appetite. This, in the long run, could also slow the rise of antibiotic resistance, according to study author Dr Ioanna Mela.
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