Fluorescent probes: a glowing hope


Shining a light on how an individual bacterium develops resistance

Associate Professor Mark Blaskovich’s team is using tiny fluorescent probes derived from antibiotics to investigate how and why bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics.

“Using these probes we can measure and monitor the interactions of antibiotics with hundreds to thousands of individual bacteria, something you don’t normally see when studying bacterial populations as a whole,” Dr Blaskovich said.

“It can help to uncover different ways in which bacteria are developing resistance to antibiotics and understand how we can develop better ways to kill bacteria more effectively, especially those that are becoming resistant.”

Bacteria take up antibiotics at different rates

By using an antibiotic tagged with a fluorescent probe, the researchers can see the rate at which the antibiotic is being taken up by the bacteria.

“While one group of bacteria started glowing at the same time, indicating they were taking up the antibiotic simultaneously, another group was very variable as to when or if they picked up any of the probes,” Dr Blaskovich said.

“This variability might explain why these bacteria are able to survive – they aren’t picking up any of the antibiotics at all.”

Antibiotics to kill bacteria more effectively

While the researchers don’t yet know why these bacteria aren’t being affected by antibiotics, it gives them an idea as to avenues to explore to figure out the mechanisms bacteria are using.

Dr Blaskovich hopes the findings will inspire further studies to understand why some bacteria are able to resist antibiotics, and lead to better antibiotics that can kill bacteria more effectively.

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