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In the war on infections, add sugar

The Boston Globe, May 12, 2011

James Collins is a Boston University bioengineer whose research on the warfare between bacteria and antibiotics has persuaded him that his illnesses in college were more than bad luck. Instead, he blames "persisters," bacteria that evade medications by slipping into a zombielike state, then mysteriously reawaken to cause new infections. In a study to be published today, Collins, 45, reports that he and colleagues have discovered how to make these bacteria, which are thought to underlie many stubborn infections, susceptible to drugs. Their solution is deliciously simple: Just add sugar. "Could we wake these guys up?'' Collins asked. "Could we . . . get them up off the ground so we can punch them and knock them out?" The answer appears to be yes. In tests in a lab dish and in mice, the sugar revved bacteria up just enough so that a particular type of antibiotic could make its way into the cells and destroy them.