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In the war against bacteria, antibiotics revitalized with new chemical additive

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If there's one thing doctors fear, it's the increasing ability of bacteria to resist our dwindling supply of effective antibiotics. But researchers have developed a chemical additive that could give new strength to previously ineffective drugs.

If there's one thing doctors fear, it's the increasing ability of bacteria to resist our dwindling supply of effective antibiotics.

But researchers at Texas Tech and Baylor universities have developed a chemical additive that could give new strength to antibiotics thought to be ineffective.

Flesh-eating methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, watch out.

First, a little background: Antibiotics such as penicillins and cephalosporins are effective in destroying many types of common bacteria, but natural selection has allowed some strains to resist treatment. These bacteria have developed an ability to produce an enzyme -- known as metallo-beta-lactamase -- that keeps common antibiotics at bay.

Overuse and misuse of antibiotics in recent years has accelerated the trend, leaving only resistant bacteria to reproduce. That  poses a big problem for doctors and scientists who are rapidly running out of options after exhausting their strongest antibiotic ammunition.

The Texan researchers developed a chain of nucleic acids, called an aptamer, that prevents metallo-beta-lactamase enzymes from breaking down antibiotics. Aptamers themselves are not new, but the researchers' aptamers prevent the enzymes from reacting by binding to them.

With defenses neutralized, older antibiotics can destroy bacteria that are normally resistant.

Pre-clinical trials using the new, patented aptamers are already underway. If successful, the one-two punch of antibiotics and aptamers could advance efforts to destroy infectious bacteria.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure