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Bacteria Provide a Frontline Defense

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4:37pm, February 3, 2004

With some genetic manipulation, scientists have turned mild-mannered bacteria into stout defenders against disease.

Researchers have learned in the past 2 decades how to entice bacteria naturally found in the body to make compounds that fight a variety of ailments. The technique has been limited, however, because these compounds usually stay anchored to a bacterium's surface. Two studies from Europe now demonstrate that the bacteria can secrete such agents–freeing them to more effectively fight disease.

So far, the approach works in mice and rats. If it succeeds in people, the technique could enlist bacteria as frontline troops against infection. The technology could also prove less expensive than another potential strategy—mass production of antibodies in a laboratory—which is being explored in current anti-infection research, says Vincent A. Fischetti, a microbiologist at Rockefeller University in New York City.

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