A University of Iowa researcher has a new study that could help patients whose chronic infections keep coming back, even after treatment. Doctor Pradeep Singh says he’s discovered some amazing behavior among the bacteria that make us sick. In some chronic infections, the bacteria aren’t living as single organisms but in groups scientists call “bio-films.” In those groups the individual bacteria begin to diversify, becoming slightly different from one another. What that happens, Doctor Singh says it’s more difficult to wipe out the infection by simply treating it with an antibiotic medicine. The bacteria have diversified into “specialist” cells…some efficient at one function or resistant to one kind of attack, others resistant to something else, so altogether the group is strengthened by its diversification. Doctor Singh is a specialist in internal medicine, and he says you might assume that an infection happens when there’s a great number of bacteria infecting the body — which is true, in part. The more you have, the harder they are to kill…but this is a different situation, in which the differentiation of the bacteria into sub-populations makes the “community of a whole” stronger and any infection it’s causing is even harder to eradicate. The doctor compares it to a forest with many kinds of plants,or a stock-market portfolio with diverse investments that’ll resist the market’s ups and downs. In the case of a diversified bacterial infection, he says researchers now can target the kind of treatment that may best cure it. Singh says traditional antibiotic therapy may not be the answer. The more you give, the faster those bacteria will grow and become mutants that can resist the drugs. One strategy may be blocking that diversification process, reducing the resistance the germs get from their diversity. Graduate students who helped with the research add that the diversity only develops when bacteria are in a large community.
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