The Future of Drug Resistance

Christina Gaw

Screen Shot 2017-01-16 at 18.28.45In the 20th century, antibiotics transformed the medical care industry, and scientists haven’t stopped synthesizing and looking for new antibacterial drugs since. The ground-breaking discovery of a new antibiotic, teixobactin, with no others discovered in the last 30 years, is fresh in our minds. [1] While research has shown victories, bacteria are no less successful in resisting the medications that were created to destroy them in the first place.

Unfortunately, the overarching issue is that bacteria mutate. When the selective pressure of antibiotics comes into the picture, a single lucky bacterium with “a shield and a sword” against the drug is enough. It will keep dividing and will restore the colony size in a blink of an eye. As many mutations are acquired and passed to the next generation, new species of bacteria arise.

Recently, researchers have decided to demonstrate the evolution of the E. coli bacteria’s resistance to drugs in a visual experiment, as shown in this video. [2,3] They created a large agar plate with a gradient of antibiotics. The concentration of antibiotics incrementally increased from the edges of the plate, where there was no antibiotic, towards the centre, where the concentration of the antibiotic was the highest. With thin agar on the top for the bacteria to move in, the scientists only had to wait and see what would happen. As the concentration of antibiotics increased, uniform bacterial growth would stop until a mutant arose. This resistant mutant would multiply and pass on the resistance genes.

The experiment lasted for about 11 days and showed that not all resistant bacteria were able to reproduce as successfully as others. The bacteria that were lucky to acquire additional resistance genes could reproduce more rapidly and gained a better chance of survival and reproduction. Those that made their way to the centre of the plate had multiple resistance mutations and were almost impossible to eliminate.

This E. coli visual experiment highlights the changes that should occur in society regarding the overuse of medications. If antibiotics are prescribed for any slight sickness, resistant bacteria will prevail. They will acquire new mutations and will thus be even harder to kill in the next round. A few bacterial species are already resistant to multiple antibiotics and virtually only last-resort antibiotics are effective against them. The multiresistant bacteria, which are commonly known as “superbugs” will become a bigger problem for scientists to control. The distribution of antibacterial drugs requires tight regulation to slow down the pace, at which new strains of resistant bacteria appear to give scientists more time to find a solution.

Knapton, S. (2016, January 7). First new antibiotic in 30 years discovered in major breakthrough. Retrieved January 17, 2017, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/14/first-new-antibiotic-in-30-years-discovered-in-major-breakthroug/

Blakemore, E. (2016, September 13). Watch E.coli Evolve Before Your Eyes. Retrieved January 15, 2017, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/watch-ecoli-evolve-your-eyes-180960418/

Bowler, J. (2016, September 12). This Amazing Video Shows Bacteria Evolving in Just 10 Days. Retrieved January 15, 2017, from http://www.sciencealert.com/watch-this-amazing-video-shows-evolution-happening-in-just-days

Edited by: Nelli Morgulchik and Ruby Halfacre