James Collins: A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down

Bioengineer James Collins has discovered that taking antibiotics with sugar may increase their power to tackle persistent infections
Ian Tucker

James Collins is a professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. A former Rhodes Scholar, he has been the recipient of many scientific honours including, in 2003, becoming the first bioengineer to receive a MacArthur Foundation "genius award".

He recently published a paper that showed how taking antibiotics with certain sugars could improve their effectiveness against stubborn infections.

Stubborn infections are caused by "persisters". Could you explain what these are?

Genetically, they aren't different from the bacteria that make you ill. They are part of the population of infectious bacteria but they go into hiding or hibernation, which affords them protection against certain stresses, including antibiotics. The persisters are a bet-hedging strategy by the population – they'll be the ones that will survive in case of attack. There may be one in 1,000 or 10,000 in the population. It's like when the US president gives his State of the Union address and one member of his cabinet stays away in hiding, so that if disaster strikes the government will continue.

For more, please visit: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/may/22/my-bright-idea-james-collins