Research Report: Find may help overcome antibiotic-resistant bacteria


By Lynne Friedmann


Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have successfully re-engineered the antibiotic vancomycin to kill the deadliest antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The walls of bacteria are made of a complex material called peptidoglycan. Vancomycin acts against bacteria by grabbing onto peptidoglycan, rendering it useless, and ultimately killing the pathogen. Unfortunately, bacteria have found a way to alter the peptidoglycan molecule so that what once attracted vancomycin now repels the antibiotic thus preventing binding.

But two can play at this game and in so doing TSRI chemists achieved a double victory. Researchers successfully altered vancomycin to be attracted to peptidoglycan in antibiotic-resistant bacteria and, in addition, the redesigned vancomycin maintains its ability to bind to wild-type peptidoglycan.

Results are published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. News release at https://


Protection from colitis

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), affects more than 1 million patients in North America. The condition is prompted by different cytokines — small signaling proteins — that activate the immune system, causing chronic inflammation.

Researchers at the UCSD School of Medicine have discovered that expression of a newly identified human cytokine — Interleukin 37 (IL-37) — protects mice from colitis, by downgrading inflammation. This is significant because IL-37 is a member of the IL-1 family and most molecules in the IL-1 family appear to promote an inflammatory response. IL-37 does the opposite.

Once the mechanism of IL-37 action is understood, scientists hope one day to engineer cells to overproduce IL-37 in order to treat or control an overactive immune system in humans. The study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). News release at https://


Focusing on eating disorders

A worldwide consortium of scientists has identified a genetic pattern associated with poor recovery from eating disorders. The study was led researchers at the UCSD School of Medicine and the Scripps Translational Science Institute.

A total of 1,878 women participated in the study, which looked for the frequency of specific inherited factors in different groups with eating disorders, including those with anorexia who did not show signs of recovery for long time periods. Among the genetic patterns identified were that the women who did not recover over the long term exhibited a higher frequency of genetic variations in a family of genes that code for the GABA receptors. GABA is a neurotransmitter that regulates brain chemistry or the central nervous system. Previously, the genes encoding the GABA receptors were not thought to be involved in behavioral disorders.

Typically, behavioral disorders are genetically linked to the neurotransmitter receptors serotonin and dopamine. In this study, no genetic variations in the serotonin or dopamine receptor gene families were found.

This suggests that a course of action geared toward the GABA receptors, rather than serotonin or dopamine uptake, may provide a treatment in patients with eating disorders. The findings appear in the journal Neuropsychpharmacology. News release at https://


— Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.