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Fighting superbugs - Disarming germs by busting up their gangs

WASHINGTON - Think of germs as gangsters. One thug lurking on a corner you might outrun, but a dozen swaggering down the street? Yikes.

Bacteria make their own gangs, clustering quietly in the body until there's a large enough group to begin an attack. This is the next frontier in fighting drug-resistant superbugs.

The idea: Don't just try to kill bacteria. The bugs will always find a way to thwart the next antibiotic.

The new goal is to disable bacteria's ability to sicken, so scientists can throw superbugs a one-two punch. And attempts to bust up germ gangs are leading the race to create these novel anti-infectives - using everything from compounds in Pinot Noir to some popular bone-building drugs.

But much of the new research centers on simply keeping germs from clustering.

'We're finding new ways to prevent disease without killing the microbial agent ... rather, neutralizing it somehow,' says University of Rochester dentist Hyun Koo, who is using compounds left over from vineyards' wine-making to bust up gooey bacteria masses known as biofilms.'

The approach should work against strep strains that cause pneumonia, too, Koo says. His ultimate goal is a cavity-preventing rinse, but much more research is required - and Koo warns not to swish with wine in the meantime. It's too acidic.

'You'll wind up with stained teeth and also erosion from the acidity,' he cautions.