Hospital rats move to university labs

Research on the intestines of the drugged rodents may help prevent antibiotic resistance

Danish researchers are defying the neat distinction between lab, pet and street rat as they are catching street rats living in the sewers of Copenhagen’s hospitals to inspect their intestines in the lab.

What makes these rats special is that they are bombarded with an unusual cocktail of drug residues and bacteria on a daily basis.

Exposure to an antibiotic leads to the survival of those organisms that have the genes for resisting it. Genes for antibiotic resistance tend to spread readily through an ecosystem of bacteria. The means of transportation for these resistance genes are oftentimes small DNA molecules called plasmids.

Because of the constant exposure to antibiotics, the guts of the hospital rats are like genetical incubators for plasmids, and therefore of interest to researchers.

The hope is that new understanding of the plasmids may lead to new treatments that can prevent antibiotic resistance.

Resistance to antibiotics is a growing phenomenon in modern medicine, and poses worrying health concerns, as antibiotic drugs gradually lose their efficiency.  

To the extent that this research is succesful, it may contribute to a new direction in curative medicine which treats diseases by targeting the plasmid rather than the disease gene.

The research is a joint project between the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus,  and has received support from the Lundbeck Foundation.