One Fell Swoop

A New Test Can Screen for Every Bacteria That Causes Disease In Humans

It could be a powerful weapon in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

10. 23. 18 / Kristin Houser
Rocky Mountain Laboratories \ NIAID \ NIH
Image by Rocky Mountain Laboratories \ NIAID \ NIH

A Powerful Platform

More than 300 types of bacteria can cause diseases in humans. Now we finally have a way to screen for them all at once.

Today’s most advanced platforms for bacteria screening can only look for signs of 19 types of bacteria in a sample. Now, researchers at Columbia University say they’ve come up with a new system that can screen for all 307 types that are known to cause diseases in humans simultaneously — and it could prove to be a powerful weapon in the global battle against antibiotic resistance.

Probing for Clues

In a study published in the journal mBio on Tuesday, the researchers describe a system they call BacCapSeq, which they claim uses 4.2 million genetic probes to detect the signature DNA of all 307 kinds of pathogenic bacteria.

Each of these probes bind to a single bacterium or biomarker for antibiotic resistance and virulence (a bacterium’s ability to infect a host). If that bacterium or biomarker shows up in a blood sample, the probe latches onto it in a way that the person analyzing the sample can detect.


“Once approved for clinical use, BacCapSeq will give physicians a powerful tool to quickly and precisely screen for all known pathogenic bacteria, including those that cause sepsis, the third leading cause of death in the United States,” first author Orchid Allicock said in a press release. “This platform is 1,000 times more sensitive than traditional unbiased testing, at a level comparable to tests that screen one bacterium at a time.”

The Resistance

While it does boast a number of benefits over the systems currently in place, BacCapSeq isn’t all that better in terms of speed. The most common sepsis test takes about 72 hours to complete while BacCapSeq  needs 70 hours to produce results.

However, that sepsis test doesn’t look for signs of antibiotic resistance, and doctors often prescribe antibiotics to patients before they even get the results.

The Columbia University team thinks it’ll be able to cut down the time BacCapSeq needs to generate results. If they’re successful, they could also decrease the number of people needlessly prescribed antibiotics, thereby helping mitigate the overprescription problem at the core of the antibiotic resistance crisis.


READ MORE: Breakthrough Test Screens for All Known Bacterial Infections [EurekAlert]

More on antibiotic resistance: UN Classifies Antibiotic Resistance as a Crisis, Putting It on Par With Ebola and HIV

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