The Cure for the Uncommon Virus

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Because of the heavy use of antibiotics, many infections, such as meningitis, no longer respond to the drugs used to treat them. Now Yale researchers say they have found a way to head off this looming crisis by turning off the genes that make bacteria resistant to antibiotic drugs. But TIME's Christine Gorman says that they're still a long way from solving the antibiotic problem. The study, to be published tomorrow in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, showed that synthetic genes introduced into E. coli bacteria (a common source of infection) spark reactions that allow drugs to override bacteria defenses and wipe out an infection. "The problem with this study is that they've done it in a laboratory in very controlled conditions," says Gorman. "The human body is not a laboratory. When bacteria are in a person, they're not totally vulnerable to whatever you throw at them. You also don't know if the agents introduced into the bacteria will do something harmful to the person. The concept is easy to understand, but the practical application is very difficult." Yale researchers estimate that it could take an additional five years of experiments before the synthetic gene could be tested on humans plagued by the recent growth in apparently invincible infections. But even if the gene takes, experts warn, nothing can keep bacteria from evolving and discovering new survival tactics.