Bacterial resistance is a major problem in the modern world, stemming in part from the build-up of antibiotics in the environment. Novel molecular approaches that enable an externally triggered increase in antibiotic activity with high spatiotemporal resolution and auto-inactivation are highly desirable. Here we report a responsive, broad-spectrum, antibacterial agent that can be temporally activated with light, whereupon it auto-inactivates on the scale of hours. The use of such a ‘smart’ antibiotic might prevent the build-up of active antimicrobial material in the environment. Reversible optical control over active drug concentration enables us to obtain pharmacodynamic information. Precisely localized control of activity is achieved, allowing the growth of bacteria to be confined to defined patterns, which has potential for the development of treatments that avoid interference with the endogenous microbial population in other parts of the organism.
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