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Antibiotics, Heal Thyself

Every year, more than 20 million kilograms of antibiotics are released into the environment in human and animal waste. Manure from antibiotics-fed farm animals, for example, is often spread on fields. These releases are an important factor in the development of new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. To attack the problem, chemists at Wayne State University have synthesized an antibiotic that chemically self-degrades after several hours of exposure to light.

Wayne State researcher Shahriar Mobashery calls this the first example of an “antibiotic that destroys itself.” Mobashery attached a nitrogen-containing chemical group to a beta-lactam antibiotic, the most commonly prescribed class of antibiotics. This compound itself will probably not become a drug. But Mobashery says the test should be food for thought for pharmaceutical companies looking to slow the spread of bacterial resistance.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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