Disease-causing bacteria become more virulent when they form a slimy biofilm. Researchers have now synthesized a chemical that breaks through the microbial goo. They hope the compound could render resistant bacteria vulnerable to annihilation by antibiotics.
When bacteria form a biofilm, they extrude polysaccharides and other molecules to weave a matrix that helps them adhere to surfaces, evade the immune system, and communicate. “The idea is to keep them out of that biofilm,” says Christian Melander of North Carolina State University. “They are 1,000-times more resilient in biofilms.”
Previous research by Thomas Wood of Texas A&M University suggested that indole, a smelly heterocyclic compound that microbes use to signal one another, inhibits biofilm production. But to ward off biofilms, patients would have to take large amounts of the chemical to be effective, making it a bad drug candidate. Melander hypothesized that potent indole derivatives would shut down biofilm production at lower concentrations and could form therapeutic adjuncts to antibiotics.