Monday, July 2, 2012

Latest 'superbug' - NDM-1

Here's a nice example of how I hope this class can help you understand the science behind the headlines a little better.

If you read the news you may have come across references to the latest 'superbug' NDM-1. But this is misleading, and confusing, because NDM-1 is actually just the name of an enzyme (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1). Several problematic bacteria have now acquired the ability to manufacture this enzyme (and you now know how they probably acquired this ability - especially if I tell you it is often carried on a plasmid).

Why is this enzyme important? Because it can break down beta-lactam antibiotics called Carbapenems that were developed to be more resistant to the beta-lactamase enzymes that many bacteria now have. Carbepenem antibiotics are extremely powerful and often used to fight highly resistant bacteria when other antibiotics have failed.

Bacteria that can produce NDM-1 are sometimes referred to as superbugs because infections caused by them are difficult to treat but NDM-1 is the name of the enzyme, not a specific bacteria.

For more information see: NDM-1 — A Cause for Worldwide Concern in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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