Probiotic drink could combat bugs by ‘blocking DNA molecules that carry antibiotic-resistant genes

How a probiotic drink could combat superbugs: Yakult-like liquid ‘could block DNA molecules that carry antibiotic-resistant genes in bacteria’

  • Drink is yet to be developed but would target molecules known as plasmids
  • They exist inside bacterial cells and help them to become antibiotic resistant
  • Bacteria use genes carried by plasmids which give resistance to antibiotics 
  • Plasmids replicate independently and carry resistance bacteria between them
  • Researchers at University of Birmingham prevented plasmids from replicating
  • This displaced the resistance genes and ‘re-sensitised’ bacteria to antibiotics 

A probiotic drink could help combat superbugs such by eliminating their resistance to antibiotics, according to researchers. 

The drink, yet to be developed, would target DNA molecules inside bacterial cells which help bugs repel drugs. 

The particles, known as plasmids, can carry genes that give resistance to antibiotics, which the bacteria are able to use.

Plasmids replicate on their own, spreading between bugs such as salmonella and E. coli and carrying resistance genes with them. 

University of Birmingham scientists made their own plasmid to stop the particles from making copies of themselves.

A probiotic drink could help to combat antibiotic resistant superbugs such as salmonella and E.coli by eliminating their resistance to antibiotics, according to researchers

It meant there were fewer resistance genes available to the bacteria. Tests showed that this process effectively ‘re-sensitised’ them to antibiotics.   

Antibiotic resistance is thought to have emerged following decades of GPs and hospital staff unnecessarily handing out antibiotics to patients. 

As a result, it is thought superbugs could kill 10million people each year by 2050 as patients succumb to previously harmless bugs.  

Probiotic products contain live bacteria which are thought to be good for you by helping to restore the natural balance in your gut.  


Antibiotics have been doled out unnecessarily by GPs and hospital staff for decades, fueling once harmless bacteria to become superbugs. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously warned if nothing is done the world is heading for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.

It claimed common infections, such as chlamydia, will become killers without immediate solutions to the growing crisis.

Bacteria can become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics or if they are given out unnecessarily. 

Former 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.

Around 700,000 people already die yearly due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria across the world. 

Concerns have repeatedly been raised that medicine will be taken back to the ‘dark ages’ if antibiotics are rendered ineffective in the coming years.

In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years.

In September, the WHO warned antibiotics are ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline.

Without antibiotics, C-sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements will become incredibly ‘risky’, it was said at the time.

The possible new drink, which the researchers are now seeking funding for a clinical trial for, would be similar to popular probiotics such as Yakult and Actimel.   

But Professor Christopher Thomas and his team said it would contain good bacteria with a new type of plasmid, called pCURE. 

Tests showed that doubling the number of the new plasmids in each bacterium could lead to the dispersion of the resistance plasmids. 

The pCURE plasmids then spread through laboratory cultures unaided, to clear out the resistance.

In addition, preventing resistance plasmids from replicating allows bacteria to grow and divide without them becoming resistant to antibiotics. 

It was not made clear what type of bacteria the researchers tested on.  

The team then collaborated with scientists at the University of Sydney to test the pCURE plasmids in mice. 

They found that the new particles worked effectively but needed to be ‘primed’ by giving the mice an initial dose of antibiotic to reduce the number of competing bacteria.  

The next step is to see if the pCURE plasmids can spread fast enough in human volunteers to get rid of resistance. 

Professor Thomas said: ‘We were able to show that if you can stop the plasmid from replicating, then most of the bacteria lose the plasmid as the bacteria grow and divide. 

‘This means that infections that might otherwise be hard to control, even with the most powerful antibiotics available, are more likely to be treatable with standard antibiotics.’ 

He added: ‘This is a promising start. We aim to make modifications to further improve the efficacy of our pCURE plasmids before moving towards a first clinical trial.’

‘Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest medical challenges of our time.

‘We need to be tackling this on a number of different fronts including by reducing our use of antibiotics and searching for new, more effective drugs. 

‘Our approach, which tackles one of the causes of antimicrobial resistance at a genetic level, could be an important new weapon in this battle.’

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