Scientists have developed a new test for antibiotic-resistant bacteria that could reduce the time for diagnosis from hours to minutes. This discovery will be invaluable to clinicians trying to treat patients and disinfect hospital facilities.

Antibiotic resistance is rapidly spreading in the world of microbes, which poses serious dangers to public health. Following a major outbreak this spring of the superbug Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) labelled emerging antibiotic resistance a "nightmare."

"Our strongest antibiotics don't work and patients are left with potentially untreatable infections," said CDC director Tom Frieden.

Until new treatments are developed, surveillance is the best method for stemming the spread of superbugs. However, current diagnostics for antibiotic resistance can take hours - sometimes days - to complete, increasing the likelihood that another person will catch the disease.

"Our [new] method can determine bacterial antibiotic resistance in 10-12 minutes, while other methods take hours," said senior author Dr. Vodyanoy, a physiologist at Auburn University. The project was a joint collaboration between Auburn and the Keesler Air Force Base with funding from the U.S. Air Force.

To create this method, the researchers relied on a natural enemy of these germs: bacteriophages.

A bacteriophage is a simple virus that can target and kill bacteria. It's name literally means "to eat bacteria."

Another common superbug - methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) - was used to validate their system.

Tiny gold strips, the size and shape of sticks of gum, were placed in petri dishes and coated with modified bacteriophages. These tiny plates can ensnare staph bacteria from a biological sample - spit or blood.

Special markers for MRSA were then added to the dish to detect the presence of antibiotic-resistant strains.

While only samples of MRSA were used in this study, "it can also be applied to other antibiotic resistant bacteria," said co-author Iryna Sorokulova, Ph.D., professor of microbiology at Auburn University.

The study was published in the video journal JOVE, so that other scientists can learn these techniques.

"We felt it would be very beneficial and educational to publish [in JoVE]," said Dr. Vodyanoy. "We are interested in someone else reproducing our results; this technology can be used on a larger scale and for antibiotic resistance other than Staphylococcus."