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Robotic Testing of Infected Worms May Lead to New Antibiotics

In an effort to develop a new approach to screening for effective antibiotics, scientists have described the successful use of a whole-animal, high-throughput screening test --automated with a robot--to test the effects of 37,000 potential drugs on C. elegans (a type of worm) infected with E. faecalis (a type of bacteria). That bacterium causes life-threatening infections in humans. The tests identified 28 potential new drugs never before reported to have germ-fighting effects. Some of the potential new drugs worked in ways that appeared to be totally different from those in which existing antibiotics work. In their report, the scientists noted that existing methods for identifying germ-fighting drugs involve adding the potential drug to cultures of bacteria or cells and watching the results. These tests sometimes do not work well. They may give passing grades to potential drugs that are toxic, or that fight bacteria in the same ways as existing antibiotics that are losing effectiveness against drug-resistant bacteria. A much better test, the researchers maintained, would involve screening of potential new antibiotics in living animals infected with bacteria to see the effects on the entire body of the animal, which is what they did in this study. The results of this new approach, carried out by researchers at Harvard Medical School and collaborating institutions, are reported in ACS Chemical Biology. [Press release] [ACS Chemical Biology abstract]