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Biology Articles » Evolutionary Biology » Slowing Evolution to Stop Drug Resistance
Infectious organisms that become resistant to antibiotics are a serious
threat to human society. They are also a natural part of evolution. In a
new project, researchers at the University of Gothenburg are attempting
to find substances that can slow the pace of evolution, in order to
ensure that the drugs of today remain effective into the future.
The resistance of infectious organisms to antibiotics is particularly
serious in drugs against fungi. Fungal cells are similar to human
cells, which means that it is difficult to develop effective drugs that
can destroy them without also damaging human cells, i.e. without causing
side effects. We must therefore safeguard the effectiveness of the few
antifungal drugs that are available today. Resistance to these would
leave many diseases without effective treatment.
However, drug resistance is a natural part of evolution. Evolution
creates random variations in the characteristics of organisms, which
results in some of them developing greater tolerance to drugs to which
they are exposed. This leads eventually to completely resistant fungal
strains, and the drug will become totally ineffective. The quicker these
random variations appear, the greater the risk of resistance
developing. One way of combating drug resistance is to slow down the
pace of evolution.
Researcher Jonas Warringer at the Department of Cell and Molecular
Biology is using advanced genetic experiments to try to find such
"evolution-slowing" substances. In the first instance, this involves
identifying the cell components that regulate the speed of evolution.
Jonas Warringer and his colleagues are using ordinary brewer's yeast as a
model for their studies. A yeast has 6 000 genes, and destroying single
genes in otherwise identical organisms enables Jonas Warringer and his
colleagues to use the method of exclusion.
Looking for gold dust
"We stimulate the evolution of the yeast cell and observe it in real
time. As our yeasts develop resistance to a particular drug, we measure
how the survivability of the different strains changes during the
process. Evolution progresses more slowly in some strains when a
specific component is destroyed. These strains are like gold dust to us,
because they tell us that these particular components are critical to
the speed of evolution," says Jonas Warringer.
"This is how we eventually found the genes that regulate evolution.
If, in the next phase, we can find a substance that can attack one of
these components, we will be able to delay the development of drug
resistance and ensure that today's drugs remain effective into the
future." The research project is funded by the Magnus Bergwall
Foundation and other benefactors. Jonas Warringer hopes that
evolution-slowing drugs will become available within the next 10-15
Source : University of Gothenburg
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