Antibiotics – Seven Wonders of the Microbe World (5/7)

Antibiotics – Seven Wonders of the Microbe World (5/7)


Microbes, mostly tiny Bacteria, make up around
90% of the cells in a typical human body – and 10% of our body weight. Most of them are
in our gut and on our skin. Many microbes are beneficial, for example,
helping us to digest our food. Only a tiny fraction cause disease – and
are usually kept in check by our immune system. But
when they aren’t, microbes also help us to fight back.
Bacteria cause disease when they are able to reproduce in the body. They produce harmful
substances called toxins, which damage tissues and organs. But in nature microbes can also
produce agents called antibiotics to protect themselves against competitors. It’s a tough world out there. And you might
think that you just see competition in the savannahs of Africa but in fact, the microbes
fight each other as well. In fact, like martial arts,
they have ways of fighting other microbes with particular moves and one move they have
is to produce antibiotics. These are compounds that
allow them to kill other microbes and take all
the food for themselves or the resources that they need. And so the competition between
microbes results in these very sophisticated antibiotic molecules. The discovery of antibiotics and their power
to fight bacterial disease began with Alexander Fleming. He observed the mould Penicillium
Notatum accidentally growing on a sample of Staphylococci – and saw that it had killed
the surrounding colonies of disease-causing bacteria. All antibiotics work by disrupting a critical
function in the bacterial cell. For example, Penicillin
discovered in 1928 prevents the cell from renewing its cell wall during growth. Eventually,
the cell wall weakens and bursts. By the 1950s, the use of antibiotics had revolutionized
the treatment of previously untreatable infectious diseases. In 1967 the Surgeon General
of the United States of America, William Stewart declared: “The time has come to
close the book on infectious diseases… We have
basically wiped out infection in the United States.” But Stewart’s optimism proved
premature… The bad news is that microbes can become resistant
to antibiotics, and they can change their biochemistry in order to adapt to these antibiotics
and prevent the antibiotics from damaging the cell. It’s standard evolutionary behaviour. When
bacteria reproduce, chance mutations occur. Most
will be useless, but sometimes there’ll be one that will protect the bacterium against
a particular antibiotic. While most of the bacteria
succumb to the antibiotic, the one that survives, goes on to reproduce and replicate
the resistance. And bacteria reproduce very fast.
Scientists are on an endless quest to develop new antibiotics to defeat resistant bacteria
– so called superbugs – but they must be used properly. Widespread use or misuse of antibiotics for
minor infections means that more bacteria become exposed, and so there’s more chance
of resistance developing and spreading through the microbe world. GPs prescribe133 million courses of antibiotics
every year. It’s estimated that 50% of these prescriptions are unnecessary – by taking
antibiotics that you don’t need you could be could
be making yourself more at risk from the disease If you don’t complete your antibiotic course,
you expose the microbe to concentrations of antibiotic, which don’t kill it.
Some bacteria, such as MRSA have become highly drug-resistant. These ‘superbugs’ aren’t
some complex and new set of diseases, merely variations of common bacteria that we used
to find easy to control. The good news is that scientists are developing
new synthetic antibiotics that target resistant bacteria. But who knows whether one day a mutated bacteria
might be resistant to all synthetic antibiotics ….a super superbug…

26 Replies to “Antibiotics – Seven Wonders of the Microbe World (5/7)”

  1. you're creepy and gross (i wanna leave my comment like that to sound immature but as a mature pre-adult…) because those things exist in you. Its a natural biological process that happens in every individual's body to fight against harmful viruses and infections.

  2. If you eat animals and animal by products, u are constantly being exposed to antibiotics. I'm glad I'm a vegan, I just took a course of antibiotics and they worked so damn fast!

  3. When I'm sat here having to take antibiotics 4 times a day for 10 days and its making me bloated and causing my stomach to hurt so bad that I cant eat… Help me.

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