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In deadly E. coli bacteria, scientists have discovered a 'resistance gene.'

Scientists have identified a gene that enables dangerous E. coli bacteria resist antibiotics, potentially improving treatment for millions of people around the world.

A study performed by the University of Queensland discovered that one strain of bacterium, E. coli ST131, possessed a previously unknown gene that rendered it highly resistant to widely given antibiotics.

Professor Mark Schembri of the University of Queensland's School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences said the 'resistance gene' can spread very quickly.

"Unlike in humans, where sex is required for gene transfer, bacteria have genetic components in their cells called plasmids that may be swapped rapidly and readily," Professor Schembri explained.

"This resistance gene is found in one of these plasmids, and it is rapidly making E. coli ST131 exceedingly resistant to fluoroquinolone antibiotics, which are commonly used."

"Antibiotics are used to treat a variety of illnesses, including UTIs, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia."

"Most importantly, this gene collaborates with other resistance genes to produce resistance at a level higher than the maximal antibiotic doses achievable during therapy."

"As a result, we'll have to reassess our treatment strategy and work to develop medications that can combat these illnesses despite antibiotic resistance."

The discoveries have provided the team with the first indications as to how antibiotic-resistant E. coli ST131 developed and spread around the world so swiftly.

Each year, E. coli causes more than 150 million infections, the majority of which are urinary tract infections (UTIs).

It's also one of the leading causes of sepsis, a disease that kills an estimated 11 million people each year.

Researchers are now focusing their efforts on developing more effective medicines to stop E. coli ST131 infections in their tracks.

Professor Schembri stated, "We've lost a vital element of our armoury to treat UTI and sepsis, but there's still hope."

"Now that we know how this plasmid-mediated antibiotic resistance gene affects patients, we can develop more targeted treatment options. "These could include new antibiotic combinations or even non-antibiotic medicines that prevent E. coli ST131 infection."

Dr. Minh-Duy Phan, the study's principal author, suggested that this information could be used to better effectively track growing resistance to key last-line medicines.

"In some regions of the world, resistance to antibiotics like carbapenems and polymyxins is fast increasing, and we discovered that the fluoroquinolone resistance gene we identified in our study is frequently associated to such resistance," Dr. Phan stated.

"E. coli possesses this gene thanks to evolution, but I'm optimistic that human creativity can still defeat this dangerous microbe."

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