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Rice University Team to Study Bacterial Drug Resistance Evolution

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Biologists at Rice University will use a $1 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to conduct genomic studies of bacterial evolution in order to discover the role certain genes play in pathogen resistance to treatments.

The Rice study will focus on antiobiotic-resistant pathogens such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci which, according to the university, have spread dramatically in recent years.

Yousif Shamoo, associate professor of biochemistry and cell biology at Rice, will lead the research team that will sequence the genomes of Escherichia coli and Enterococcus faecalis before and after they are subjected to specific testing.

"Our goal is to show antibiotic makers which sets of genes a pathogen will modify to become drug-resistant," Shamoo said in a statement.

"If they know the molecular path that an organism will take to become resistant to a new drug, our hope is that they can find ways to cut off that path," he added.

The testing will involve treating the bacteria in a vessel with incrementally higher drug doses and performing constant sampling as they die, reproduce, and mutate.

The researchers will use the stored samples as a sort of fossil record of how these bacteria adapted to the drug. They will use mass spectrometry to help determine in which order the mutations occurred. These studies should show the "molecular path to resistance," the school said.