Bacterial Marathon

Imagine you’re relaxing on your couch, binge watching series or surfing the web (or both!).

Then an alien siren goes off declaring the end of humanity as we know it, the only way to escape being to run a full marathon. Sounds devilish doesn’t it?


Anytime we introduce antibiotics into our system, bacteria see that as doomsday, the war-term equivalent of carpet bombing. The only way to escape antibiotics is to develop the skills to evade it, or even survive through it:

  • Genetic mutation: Those lucky people who already could run that marathon.
  • Acquiring it from another organism: People who were training to run a marathon.

To understand what a doomsday looks like to a bacterium, let’s review how antibiotics work imagining a bacterium is a small town. I will also list some ways by which bacteria can overcome these obstacles:

Tactic Attack Defense
Tear down the fort walls Crippling production of cell wall ·         Pumping it out

·         Producing alternative proteins and metabolic routes

·         Taking in and destroying the antibiotic

Taking down bakeries, restaurants and food production. Interfering with protein synthesis
Jamming communication lines and transport routes. Messing up metabolism
Killing all the females and children. Blocking DNA synthesis

Finishing a marathon says nothing about our worth as a surviving human race. It barely indicates that few of us are physically able to run for long distances. If our goal is to challenge humanity to promote the best elements, we better rethink our strategy.

Similarly, surviving antibiotics only implies the presence of a defense trait in a bacterium. It implies nothing about its usefulness to a healthy gut.

Most oral antibiotics inevitably target the gut microbiome. With such destructive mass-killing techniques, both good and bad bacteria are bound to be wiped out completely. Antibiotic design keep evolving to better target specific bacterial populations but this is a never-ending race. There will always be harmful bacteria that can acquire resistance and survive our toughest weapons.

But why do we care in the first place, it’s such a tiny war on the scale of our organism?

Most of you have already heard about antibiotic resistance, and how it’s shaping our food industry and economics in general. In brief, over-using antibiotics exposes bacterial populations to more marathons, and more chances to get better at them. Not only do our faulty daily practices contribute to this problem but the biggest contributor is our animal stock. Being so terrified of sick chickens and cows that cannot be sold, the food industry constantly supplements their feed with antibiotics. The Pharma industry also can’t keep up, so we’re stuck in a cycle teaming with resistant bacteria ready to throw us back into the middle ages, before Fleming’s penicillin.

More links are sprouting between excess exposure to antibiotics and our brain activity. A recent report listed 3 lessons we learned:

  • Antibiotics disrupt communication between gut microbiome and the immune system. By also destroying useful bacteria in the gut, losing this population can affect our metabolism. This can also lead to a disruption to the signals going back to the brain. Going back to our tactics above, it’s like you’re isolating the population from its army.
  • Pressure towards resistance as was discussed earlier. Reports indicate that our gut flora acquire more and more resistance genes as we grow older, and more exposed to antibiotics.
  • Antibiotics aren’t the only solution.
    • Make use of bacteriocins: Bacteria’s own weapons to kill other bacteria.
    • Employ Gene editing tools such as CRISPR to excise those parts out of the genome.
    • Eradicate bacteria then re-supplementing good populations into the gut using fecal transplants.

What do you think? Any stories or analogies you want to share to communicate the issue of antibiotics resistance? Leave us a comment below!

[Signature drink by E.]

Give Science Bar a Like on Facebook, and never miss an update.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s