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Scientists study how bacteria evolve to resist antibiotics

Memphis, Tennessee, May 11, 2020

Two side-by-side images of men looking forward and smiling.

Co-authors Joshua Wolf, PhD, MBBS, and Jason Rosch, PhD, both of Infectious Diseases at St. Jude, contribute to a study of bacteria and how it adapts to resist antibiotics.

Children treated for cancer are apt to get infections. Scientists at St. Jude, the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard Medical School want to know why some infections are hard to treat.

“We can't assume that bacteria are all the same,” said Joshua Wolf, PhD, MBBS, Infectious Diseases. “During the time they're on us or causing infections they can evolve to become better pathogens.”

The team sequenced antibiotic-resistant bacteria that infect kids with leukemia. Scientists found the bacteria adapt over time and respond to therapy. This helps them survive in the body in spite of antibiotics.

“The sequencing results showed that key metabolic processes change in the bacteria,” said Jason Rosch, PhD, Infectious Diseases. “We could see how the bacteria were evolving.”

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published this work.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.