Friday, April 4, 2008

Nasty Bugs Continue to Change and Adapt: An Update on Antibiotic Resistance

Recently Reuters wrote about a "startling new finding," one in which scientists discovered strains of bacteria in the soil that can make a meal of the world's most potent antibiotics. Our biggest weapons in the arsenal against bacteria, these antibiotic germ-fighting drugs now appear to be losing the war against superbugs.

A study of soil microbes taken from 11 sites uncovered bacteria that could withstand antibiotics 50 times stronger than the standard for bacterial resistance.

Dr. George Church and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School in Boston published this recent research in the journal Science. This is the #1 most respected journal in the scientific world, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"Many bacteria in many different soil isolates can not only tolerate antibiotics, they can actually live on them as their sole source of nutrition," Church said in an audio interview on the journal's Web site.

While antibiotic-eating strains of bacteria have been discovered before, Church's study is among the most complete and it appears to offer more clues about why bacteria quickly develop resistance to antibiotics, and why drug companies must constantly develop new antibiotics to defeat them. Sadly, the bugs are winning.

When the researchers tested the microbes against antibiotics, something they thought would be toxic, they found them to actually grow on the bed of antibiotics.

Surprised by how easily the microbes devoured the antibiotics, Church and colleagues did a broader test, exposing hundreds of microbes to 18 antibiotics representing most of the major classes of naturally occurring and synthetic antibiotics, including penicillin and the widely prescribed antibiotic ciprofloxacin.

"We could find ... bacteria that could grow on almost all of them," depending on the bacteria and the source of the soil, Church said.

Some of these bacteria were close relatives of germs that can cause blood infections in people with compromised immune systems. Church said the finding underscores the extent to which bacteria have developed resistance to antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is a process that started almost as soon as penicillin was introduced in the 1940s.

This site has written previously about the overuse of antibiotics, and how this practice has since fueled the rise of drug-resistant superbugs. Many scientists believe that the rise of "anti-microbial" compounds in soaps, kitchen products, hand gels, etc, has also fueled the wrong side of this war.

One antibiotic resistant infection, caused by a strain known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is blamed for killing 19,000 people in the United States in 2005.


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