Our Planet Seethes With Antibiotic Resistance–And Has For A Long Time

We’re in a medical crisis, as bacteria that can resist antibiotics become more common. But, as I write in my new New York Times column, antibiotic resistance isn’t just limited to the doctor’s office. Bacteria all over the world have genes that make them resistant to our best drugs–bacteria living in caves, in ice, in the ocean floor, and in the dirt outside your door. And they probably had those genes long before doctors started using antibiotics.

Scientists have long considered the rise of antibiotic resistance one of the most striking examples of evolution in our own time. Our growing appreciation for antibiotic resistance beyond disease-causing bacteria doesn’t change that. After all, scientists can observe antibiotic resistance evolve from scratch in laboratory experiments. What the new research does is give us a richer, planet-wide glimpse of that evolutionary process.

5 thoughts on “Our Planet Seethes With Antibiotic Resistance–And Has For A Long Time

  1. The issue that bacteria in isolated places on the planet have resistance to antibiotics, could not tell us nothing about the fact that they have these genes long time before the phenomina has been found in comunity. I think that these genes for resistance reached to these isolated bacteria from resistant bacteria in comunuty by several ways of diffusion: like waste water, rain, viruses, insects and so on. So I am convinced that resistance to antibiotics is really a new phenomina which evolved in recent decades as an addapting step of bacteria to antibiotics.

  2. This is natural selection AKA evolution. When industrial farms constantly use tons of antibiotics, they select for antibiotic resistance so they can have the animals survive in any non-natural environment, there is very strong selection for microbes which are resistant to the antibiotics used.

  3. Since antibiotics themselves existed long before humans started using them, being used against bacteria by other bacteria (and other organisms), it isn’t surprising that antibiotic resistance has also been around for a long time.

  4. Some antibiotic resistance genes are also pretty general in their function. One of the most common ways for bacteria to become resistance is to express more molecular pumps that simply pumps out the antibiotic quickly enough for the bacterium to survive. These kinds of pumps need not be specific to one or several antibiotics, they can be general pumps of removal of general environmental toxins.

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