Armchair Epidemiology

On a radically different subject from my usual, an article in Discover magazine gave me a ‘light bulb’ moment. Discover’s Jessica Snyder Sachs wrote a piece on the spread of antibiotic resistant genes among bacteria. Bacteria trade genes, and absorb the DNA of their dead brethren, spreading resistance to our key medical antibiotics. While much of the article seemed to be a veiled call for more regulation, a la the European Union, it was still food for thought. I wonder if this idea hasn’t been tried yet: use the bacteria’s ability to absorb DNA to seed it with code that causes it to lose that very ability, namely to absorb DNA. This ‘neutering code’ could be spread around areas of high infection, like hospitals and wastewater treatment plants – rendering the bacteria unable to share genetic information, and therefore making them easier to kill.

I’m sure some scientist has thought of this, but I thought I’d put it out there anyway.


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