The New Antibiotic Resistance Explained

You have probably heard of the new superbug by now. “Antibiotic ‘last line of defense’ breached in China”! “Antibiotic resistance: World on cusp of ‘post-antibiotic era”! “Antibiotic under threat, as new superbug emerges in China”! In a nutshell: A new superbug is GOING TO KILL US ALL. Sorry to ruin your day here. But we knew what was coming for a very long time. We never listened. We ask for antibiotics when we´ve caught a viral cold, even though we were told many times that antibiotics only kill bacteria. We eat cheap meat – and lots of it. Some people use antibiotics as painkillers. Excuse me, while I bang my head against a wall. The irony is, the World Health Organization is running their Antibiotic Awareness Week in the same week as the first finding of a “last resort” – antibiotic resistant superbug is published. (Or possibly, a deliberate, tactical move, but we´ll never know because they only answer questions from professional journalists. A blog doesn´t seem to qualify as proper journalism in their books…)

Since many news articles have already covered the fact that resistance is happening, I will now focus on what exactly makes this particular E. Coli strain so special. The short version: The MRC-1 gene. It gives the bacteria resistance against polymyxins. These were our last resort antibiotics, and stupidly enough, also part of the drugs we use on animal farms. The first superbugs were found in pigs in China. The creepy part is: MRC-1 is a gene, which is encoded on short-stranded DNA, the kind that floats around loosely in a bacteriums inner cell filling, and is easily shared with other bacteria strains. This means that the gene can hop from E.Coli (harmless to people with a functioning immune system) to Cholera, Tetanus, Syphilis, Tuberculosis… (a list goes on here and all can lead to painful, agonizing death). This is called horizontal gene transfer, and it is what makes MRC-1 the stuff of nightmares. This thing can spread – and it probably already has, from China to Laos and Malaysia.

 

When we ate our steak at that last summer BBQ, when we stopped taking the pills the doctor gave us a bit sooner than he´d asked us to, when we begged said doctor to relieve us from the pain of a viral infection, we were unwillingly putting the lives of future generations at risk. With antibiotic resistance, we are exposing our sick and our elderly, our young and our vulnerable to a previously curable threat. Organ transplant patients, cancer patients, pregnant mothers giving birth via a cesarean section… These are just a few examples of the people whose lives depend on antibiotics. The resistance is already upon us. But with just a few more rational choices, at the doctors, or when we sit down to have dinner, we can still fight back. So keep that brain buzzing. Otherwise autopilot will get us into the post – antibiotic era sooner than we ever wanted.

Vive la Resistance?!

Reference:

Emergence of plasmid-mediated colistin resistance mechanism MCR-1 in animals and human beings in China: a microbiological and molecular biological study, Y. Lui et al

 

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7 thoughts on “The New Antibiotic Resistance Explained

  1. The fact that this gene is transmissable is really amazing and frightening at the same time. In case you write something more about this topic, maybe you could explain how this happens. Thanks a lot for the valuable reading time you are providing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are alternatives, and one that I will write about are AMPs. (Post will follow in the future.) The Times article doesn’t state the name of the drug or the publication (which I think is poor style), but I’m going to try to hunt it down. But alternatives aren’t going to solve the underlying problem. Give humans something “good” and they will use it. A change from short term to long term thinking is required. Our attitude towards antibiotics (and alternatives) MUST change.

      Like

      1. That’s nothing you have to tell me, I agree.
        Nice, keen on reading some news soon. I figured the times article wasn’t the most legit.

        Like

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