Nicotine-Eating Bacteria Could Make It Easier To Quit Smoking

The bugs eat up nicotine before it can give you a buzz.

Nicotine-eating bacteria might hold the key to quitting smoking, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute report. The current patches, pills, and therapies out there aren’t exactly effective — only 5 percent of people actually succeed — so this unexpected bacteria-based strategy has scientists excited.

The researchers at Scripps were trying to find a way to break down the nicotine in the body before it gives smokers that buzz. Bacteria, surprisingly, provided the answer.

“For almost 50 years there’s been reports of bacteria that can actually use nicotine to thrive on,” Kim Janda, a co-author of the paper, told Scientific American. “The bacteria uses nicotine as its sole source of carbon and nitrogen.”

To do the study, the researchers doped up mouse serum with nicotine and added the nicotine-chomping enzyme from the bacteria to it. The enzyme cleared out the nicotine really quickly: While the normal half-life of nicotine is on the scale of hours, the enzyme cleared it in less than 15 minutes.

Though promising, this research won’t be turned into an anti-smoking product anytime soon. The scientists still need to figure out how to get this bacterial enzyme into the body without freaking out the immune system. Until then, there’s always the Patch.