A Yul Brynner Haircut Can K.O. Bacteria

Antibiotics such as penicillin have long been silver bullets against bacterial infection and disease. But bacteria have steadily evolved increasing resistance to drugs. Some nasty bugs already shrug off all but one antibiotic, and physicians fear that bacteria will soon conquer even this last-ditch defense.

Now, scientists at Washington University's School of Medicine in St. Louis are uncovering a promising new way to battle bacteria--a sort of Yul Brynner treatment. Bacteria use tiny hairlike projections, called pili, to cling to cells in the kidney, lungs, or other organs. Remove these hairs, and the body could simply flush out the invaders. Researchers led by Scott J. Hultgren, an assistant professor gf molecular microbiology, may have found the key in special proteins that regulate pili growth. Next, Hultgren hopes to develop a drug that disrupts this process. The work is funded in part by Symbicom, a pharmaceutical company in Umea, Sweden.

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