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Tricking bacteria into killing themselves

Francisco Bengoa via Flickr CC

The CRISPR gene-editing technology could be used to target specific bacteria that cause fatal, drug-resistant infections in humans, according to MIT Technology Review.

Problem to be solved: Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a danger to patients and lead to increased health care costs, according to the WHO. And more than 70% of the bacteria that cause infections in hospitals are resistant to at least one of the antibiotics usually used to treat them, per the FDA.

Eligo Biosciences in Paris and Locus Biosciences in North Carolina have started working on developing CRISPR-based antibiotics commercially.

How it would work: The patient would take a probiotic containing viruses called bacteriophage that have modified CRISPR messages. The CRISPR messages would transfer instructions specifically to drug-resistant bacteria to edit their own DNA in a way that tricks them into killing themselves off. Beneficial bacteria wouldn't be touched.

Jan-Peter Van Pijkeren, a food scientist at the University of Wisconsin, specifically wants to target the bacterium Clostridium difficile, which is on the CDC's list of urgent drug-resistant threats.

Potential snags: Each kind of bacteriophage tends to only infect certain bacteria, so the CRISPR technology would need to work with more types of bacteriophage in order to fight different infections.