Science and Technology

Resistance of bacteria to antibiotics is not only a genetic response

Researchers have found that bacteria use genetic resistance and persistence to stay active in the body

Interaction between two resistance mechanisms to guarantee the survival of bacteria in the body.

Researchers at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium found that the genetic resistance to antibiotics is not the only trick that bacteria use to resist eradication, they also have a second defense strategy known as persistence.

Discovery could lead to new approaches for effective treatment of infections resistant to multi-drugs.


Bacterial cells are temporarily persistent hyper-resistant to all antibiotics at once. They are able to survive the normally lethal levels of antibiotics without being genetically resistant to the drug. These cells are a major cause of treatment failure, as the mechanism behind the phenomenon of persistence was still totally unknown.

The study leader, Jan Michiels explains that the persistent cells are a major contributor to treatment failure.

"The persistent cells are produced in small numbers, but still makes it almost impossible to completely remove the infection from the patient. As a result, eradication of infection by antibiotic treatment usually takes a long time," he said. "Our work shows that antibiotic treatment may also influence the number of cells formed persistent."

Co-administration of therapies, in which drugs targeting non-essential cellular functions combined with antibiotics, are being developed to treat infections resistant to multi-drugs.

Michiels said having the persistent target is an attractive option.

"Ideally, the cells would be sensitive about the persistent target of a single therapy, but first we need to understand more about the interaction between genetic resistance and persistence to prevent a spur to another.

According to the researchers explain the mechanism behind bacterial persistence is very important for them to optimize treatment of chronic bacterial infections.