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Spring-Summer 2002
Vol. 64, No. 3

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University scientists have shown that a laboratory model of evolution can predict how strains of bacteria change over time, an insight that may guide work to create drugs to which bacteria cannot adapt.

"Antibiotic-resistant bacteria were a perfect target on which to test the model because we have examples of antibiotic resistance genes that first appeared 40 years ago," says Barry Hall, professor of biology. "We know how those genes evolved in nature during the last 40 years, so if we apply the model to those genes and the model predicts those same evolutionary outcomes as happened in nature, we can be confident that the model works."

Published in the March issue of Genetics, the research is based on a series of experiments in which Hall and his team re-introduced mutated copies of bacteria genes into bacteria cells.

Mutating key genes in the bacteria and subjecting the newly evolved bacteria to new antibiotics will show if and how a species of bacteria will likely evolve to circumvent new antibiotics.

The model should reveal what new traits will evolve so that researchers may be able to synthesize a second drug that kills the bacteria with the new ability-essentially cutting off the bacteria's evolutionary escape route.

"Fighting bacteria with antibiotics has always been done the same way," says Hall. "We make a drug and after awhile, the bugs adapt to it, so we give them a variant of the drug. But if we can predict how they're going to get around our treatments, we can work out a way to make that route impossible for them. We can cut them off at the pass."

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