Could we train bacteria to make themselves harmless?

A look at bugs in the gut. (Animation by Noah Besser)

A look at bugs in the gut. (Animation by Noah Besser)

Medical researcher Pratik Shah maps metabolites — the food sources our bodies provide to bacteria when we experience infection. “When you’re sick,” he says in a talk at TEDxBeaconStreet, “your body produces two different kinds of metabolites.” One kind fuels bacteria to produce massive amounts of toxic molecules in your body, which makes you sick, he says, while the other is essentially ignored by bacteria. “Bugs have evolved not to eat, or learned to circumvent themselves, from these metabolites,” he says.

So, what happens if you force bacteria to eat these food sources? “They basically become avirulent or nonpathogenic,” Shah says. But it’s hard to trick bacteria into eating these metabolites. What one has to do, Shah says, is flush the system while bacteria are eating the toxin-feeding metabolites and replace those metabolites with the toxin-inhibiting metabolites. “The bugs don’t know they’re eating them,” he says. “They don’t like them: In the real sense, they become non-pathogenic; they turn the toxin production down, and they start exiting [the] body in noninfectious state,” he says.

What’s remarkable about this method of treating infection, Shah says, is that this treatment is not killing bacteria, but rather training bacteria to become avirulent, which could help prevent overuse of antibiotics and other treatment. “Up until now, we have been killing [bacteria],” Shah says, but he thinks that doesn’t have to be the only answer to infection. In the future, he says, “when you’ve got an infectious disease — instead of coming back with an antibiotic and killing the bugs — the first or the front-line therapy … should be and could be understanding and managing the infection by training the bugs, by giving them food sources which, instead of making them pathogenic, first make them nonpathogenic, noninfectious, and then, if required, come back with antibiotics.”

An animated look at the concept of Shah's proposed treatment. (Animation by Noah Besser)

An animated look at the concept of Shah’s proposed treatment. (Animation by Noah Besser)

“This concept allows us to use the antibiotics in a more rational way,” Shah says — to prescribe antibiotics less and if new antibiotics are discovered, to prevent resistance to these new drugs.

Watch his whole talk to learn more:

1 Comment

  1. olagoke qudus

    Please what kind of drug can we use to kill those bacteria. In my own case,a bad odour comes out of my body but I can’t smell it myself. Am avoided by people but didn’t know what to do. I heard that it caused by gut in the bacteria. It is called trimethylaminuria. Please I need help,because am dying here. Waiting for your reply.

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