Thursday, September 17, 2009

Antibiotic resistance and beyond

Almost all the drugs that we consider as our mainline defense against bacterial infection are at risk from bacteria that not only resist the drugs but eat them for breakfast.
--George Church, geneticist, Harvard Medical School

What's eating you may eat drugs too! Church and company dug up this unhappy piece of news while digging in a cornfield fertilized with manure from antibiotic-fed cows. They compared the locals (soil microbes) in the corn patch to their bacterial colleagues from the dirt of a pristine forest and several other locales more or less contaminated with druggish waste.

So you'd expect those bugs inured to manure to be antibiotic resistant and the au naturel bunch to die when cultured with drugs, right? Unfortunately, wrong. Bacteria from every sampling included strains that could survive "with nothing to eat but antibiotics." Not only did these little hummers not die from the drugs, they devoured them.

For those of us who think antibiotic resistance is not a huge and looming danger, Gerry Wright, a chemical biologist from McMaster University, sums it up in words that can't be ignored: "Soil bacteria pass around resistance-conferring genes like teenagers swap downloaded music files, and pathogenic [disease-causing] bacteria could likewise pick up antibiotic-digesting genes, particularly from a closely related microbe.


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