Mar 022011
 
Kary Mullis, American biochemist and Nobel lau...

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NOBEL PRIZE-WINNING CHEMIST KARY MULLIS OFFERS A RADICAL NEW WAY TO TREAT INFECTIOUS DISEASES AS THE EFFECTIVENESS OF OUR CURRENT ANTIBIOTICS WANES.

Kary Mullis, a self-proclaimed non-specialist, won the Nobel Prize for developing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique that allows researchers to quickly and cheaply make many copies of single strands of DNA. For the past decade Mullis has been using PCR to create new types of drugs that could soon provide a cure for everything from malaria to anthrax. He tells Seed how he is bridging the gap between disparate scientific fields to devise a radical new way to combat infectious diseases.

Seed: Why do we need to rethink the way we treat infectious diseases?

Kary Mullis: Many pathogens are becoming resistant to our antibiotics. Consider penicillin, for example. We took it from a fungus that grew in the soil and killed bacteria for food. Because of this warfare, some bacteria had developed a resistance via DNA, to penicillin. Over time, they passed this resistance via DNA up to the pathogens that infect our bodies. So now many organisms—like Staphylococcus aureu, the cause of Staph infections—are, in large part, unaffected by penicillin. In this way a lot of bacteria have mutated around our antibiotics.

The standard pharmaceutical response is to go stomping through the jungle trying to find extracts of all the organisms and see if one of them will inhibit the growth of particular bacteria. And that of course will get more and more difficult as time goes on. It is clear that we need another solution.

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