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Antibiotics might get a boost from slime-fighting molecule

A slime-busting substance developed at N.C. State University could help restore potency to antibiotics that have lost their punch against deadly germs.

"Splash some of our magic juice, and it makes antibiotics potent again," said John Cavanagh, a professor in NCSU's department of molecular and structural biochemistry and one of the developers of the novel molecule.

They hope to market the substance for medical, agricultural and industrial uses.

The molecule, isolated from a sea sponge, doesn't kill bacteria. Instead, it keeps them from forming colonies known as biofilms. These slimy bacterial communities – think plaque on teeth or the gunk that fouls ship bottoms – feature an interlocking mesh that protects them from outside attack.

Clumped as a colony, bacteria are 10,000 times more resistant to drugs. Unclumped, even killers such as antibiotic-resistant staph infections are vulnerable to penicillin, an old-line antibiotic that many germs outmaneuvered long ago.

Cavanagh and his colleague, Christian Melander, an assistant professor of chemistry, discovered the molecule after observing how a species of sponge remained free of the slimy buildup that bogs down other underwater organisms.

"The sponge had it figured out," Melander said.

But it took scientists years to catch up to the simple sea creature. Turns out the molecule produced by the sponge is highly complex and difficult to recreate in the lab.

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