Thursday, July 21, 2016

We're Just One Step Away From a Superbug

The possibility that a strain of bacteria might develop total resistance to all known antibiotics (i.e., a superbug) continues to haunt us. Slowly but surely, more and more bacteria are increasing their resistance to antibiotics faster than we can create new antibiotics. No bacterium is completely resistant to all antibiotics yet, but a recent discovery suggests that we are just one step away from that point.

Right now, one of the most antibiotic-resistant of all bacteria is carbapenum-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE for short). CRE has developed resistance to all antibiotics except an old antibiotic developed 50 years ago, called colistin. But now researchers have discovered a strain of E. coli bacteria that is resistant to colistin. If this strain of E. coli ever transfers its genetic material to CRE (the equivalent of bacterial mating), then we are in for real trouble.

Will it ever happen? No one knows. But bacteria have proven themselves to be highly adaptable. The era when antibiotics were the answer to bacterial infections may be coming to an end. We may have to find new ways to combat the bacteria of the future.

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