Two Common Antibiotics Don’t Work the Way We Thought

The secret lives of antibiotics are more interesting than we ever knew. Researchers analyzing two commonly prescribed drugs say these medications attack bacteria using never-before-seen techniques—a discovery that could help us develop better drugs in the future. The team published its findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Chloramphenicol (CHL) is an aggressive broad-spectrum antibiotic that’s been around since the 1940s. It’s injected intravenously to treat serious infections like meningitis, cholera, plague, and anthrax, but the risks of use are so extreme that it’s typically only used as a drug of last resort.

Linezolid (LZD) is both newer and gentler. It’s prescribed for common illnesses like pneumonia and strep, but has also proven itself against drug-resistant bacteria like the one that causes the staph infection MRSA.

Despite differences in their structure, the two drugs fight disease the same way many other antibiotics do: by sticking to the catalytic center of a bacterial cell and blocking its ability to synthesize proteins. Because other drugs are universal inhibitors—that is, they prevent any and all synthesis—scientists assumed CHL and LZD would be, too.

Researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago were not content to assume. They wanted to know for sure what the two antibiotics were up to. They cultured colonies of E. coli bacteria, exposed them to strong doses of CHL and LZD, then sequenced the beleaguered bacteria’s genes to see what was going on inside.

As expected, CHL and LZD were all up on the bacteria’s ribosomes, frustrating its attempts to put proteins together. But the drugs weren’t as totalitarian as scientists had believed. Instead, their approach seemed both specific and context-dependent, switching targets based on which amino acids were present.

"These findings indicate that the nascent protein modulates the properties of the ribosomal catalytic center and affects binding of its ligands, including antibiotics," co-author Nora Vazquez-Laslop said in a statement. In other words: It seems amino acids have a lot more influence than we realized.

As so often happens in science, finding these answers also raised a lot of questions (like "How many other antibiotics have we mischaracterized?"), but it also opens a door for medical science, said co-author Alexander Mankin.

"If you know how these inhibitors work, you can make better drugs and make them better tools for research. You can also use them more efficiently to treat human and animal diseases."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Citroën
These Funky Glasses Are Designed to Reduce Motion Sickness
Citroën
Citroën

There's nothing like a sudden wave of nausea to ruin a scenic road trip or a cruise. According to Visuall, the French car company Citroën has made a product that allows you to fight motion sickness without medication.

Their glass-less spectacles, called SEETROËN, implement technology first developed by the French startup Boarding Ring. Motion sickness occurs when the information we receive from our inner ear doesn't match up with what we see in front of us. SEETROËN tackles this problem in a simple way: Liquid at the bottom of all four rings (two in front of the eyes, two at the peripheries) responds to gravity and changes in movement the same way the fluid in your inner ear does. By having an "artificial horizon" to look at when you're in the back of a bumpy car, your visual senses should realign with your sense of balance, and you'll no longer feel queasy.

The accessory isn't exactly fashionable, unless maybe you're going for a space-age look, but you shouldn't worry about appearing goofy for too long. After staring at a still object like a book through the glasses for 10 to 12 minutes, you can remove them and continue to enjoy the benefits as you proceed with your trip, the company claims.

SEETROËN is currently out of stock at Citroën's lifestyle store, with the next shipment estimated for September. The company claims the spectacles show positive results 95 percent of the time, and the technology it uses won an INNOV'inMed award for health innovation. But like with any new technology meant to treat a medical condition, users should be cautious. Time-tested ways to prevent motion sickness include sitting in the front seat of a car, eating something light before you travel, and focusing your gaze on something outside the nearest window.

[h/t Visuall]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
5 Simple and Painless Ways to Remove a Splinter
iStock
iStock

Splinters are as sneaky as they are annoying. You never see one coming, but once one gets embedded in you, you’re definitely going to feel it. The most common way to pull one of these out of your body is to grab a pair of tweezers and just start digging. While that might work for splinters that haven't lodged too deep into your body, it’s far from ideal for the ones completely under the surface. Plus, it hurts.

Thankfully, you don’t always need sharp instruments or a trip to the doctor to get rid of those stubborn splinters—there are plenty of items lying around your house right now that can help draw them out. So the next time you find yourself with a painful piece of wood or other material stuck in your foot, finger, etc. be sure to wash the affected area with soap and warm water and give one of these simple—and painless—remedies a try.

1. SOAK IT IN EPSOM SALTS.

Epsom salts are an incredibly versatile cure-all for common ailments like sunburn and sore muscles. But one of its lesser known uses is the fact that it can help bring deep splinters to the surface of your skin.

To get this to work, just dissolve a cup of the salts into a warm bath and soak whatever part of the body has the splinter. Failing that, you can also put some of the salts onto a bandage pad and leave it covered for a day; this will eventually help bring the splinter to the surface. Both methods help to draw the splinter out, which you can then pull out completely with a tweezer.

2. SLAP A BANANA PEEL ON TOP OF IT.

They can do everything from whiten your teeth to shine your shoes, but banana peels can also rid you of your splinter woes. Simply take a portion of a ripe peel and tape the inside portion over the area with the splinter. From there, the enzymes in the peel will get to work by softening your skin and helping the splinter move closer to the surface.

Some say just a few minutes is often all it takes, but if you can leave it on longer (especially overnight), you’ll have a better chance that the splinter will surface. Sometimes it will be drawn out far enough that it will come out on its own when you remove the peel; other times you may still need to use a pair of tweezers to finish the job. And if it doesn’t work after one night, replace the peel and leave it on for another day.

Don’t have a banana handy? You can also try a potato slice using essentially the same method: Place the skinless side on the area, hold in place with a bandage, and leave it on overnight. Then remove it and see if the splinter has surfaced.

3. MAKE A BAKING SODA PASTE.

First, before you do anything, clean the affected area with soap and water. Then combine a little water with ¼ of a tablespoon of baking soda to make a paste that you can then spread on the splinter. Once the paste is spread, cover the area with a bandage and keep it just like that for a full 24 hours.

You should notice that the splinter has made its way to the surface, where you can now simply just remove it. If you still can't get a hold of it, you can repeat the same procedure until the splinter is sufficiently brought above the skin.

4. USE SOME TAPE.

This method is best when a splinter is already drawn to the surface a bit but tweezers just won’t do. Simply take a piece of tape—go for something a little stronger, like duct tape—and place it over the splinter. Once the tape is secure (leave it on for a few minutes), gently pull it off. You may have to repeat this a few times to coax the splinter out. For a little added security, soak the area in warm water first to soften the skin.

5. VINEGAR OR OIL.

Another simple way to draw out that stubborn splinter is to soak the affected area in oil (olive or corn) or white vinegar. Just pour some in a bowl and soak the area for around 20 to 30 minutes, then eyeball the splinter and see where it is. If it looks closer to the surface, but not enough to pull out, soak it longer. Once it gets far enough out, just remove it and wash the area with soap and water.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios