Evolution winning in bacteria vs antibiotics arms race

Science is running out of new ways to attack harmful bacteria, while drug companies are abandoning antibiotic research and development, according to a University of Adelaide drug expert.

Speaking during Antibiotic Awareness Week (18-24 November), Dr Ian Musgrave from the University's School of Medical Sciences says whenever a new antibiotic is developed, evolve to become resistant within a relatively short period of time.

"There's no doubt that evolution is winning the antibiotics arms race," says Dr Musgrave, a Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology.

"Bacteria are very good at mutating and developing resistance. What's more, bacteria can easily swap DNA, so these resistance mutations can be effectively 'downloaded' from one bacteria to the next. Bacteria can aquire multiple resistance genes this way."

He says science is now falling behind. "We can attack the metabolic pathways bacteria use, we can attack their DNA replication, or we can bust open their cell walls, but each time scientists develop something new, bacteria will evolve so that the same drugs might not be as effective in the following years. It's a vicious cycle, and we can't continue on it," he says.

Dr Musgrave says many are giving up on antibiotics. "Antibiotic research and development is crashing - it doesn't seem to be as profitable any more and there's a lack of new drugs coming onto the market," he says.

The use of multi-drug cocktails, a method employed for HIV patients, could help. This approach attacks bacteria in different ways all at the same time. "However, this kind of treatment is likely to be expensive for the patient and could lead to additional adverse drug events," Dr Musgrave says.

He says one of the best ways to prevent bacteria from developing resistance is for patients to take their full dosage of antibiotics as prescribed by their doctor.

"Many people start taking antibiotics but then they feel better and don't see the point in taking them any more. The point is, they need to kill off all the harmful bacteria. If they don't do this, the can rapidly build up again and become resistant to the drug."

He says GPs should also make sure they're not prescribing antibiotics for uncomplicated viral conditions.

Antibiotic Awareness Week is a global initative to help people learn about and preserve these life-saving medicines.

"Anything we can do to limit the amount of unnecessary anitbiotics in the community will be helpful in preventing resistance," Dr Musgrave says. "For example, the use of in agriculture is a controversial issue, and this can lead to resistant strains of disease that pass from animals to humans."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Antibiotics – friend and foe?

Nov 18, 2013

European Antibiotic Awareness Day is marked on the 18th November every year. This year in Norway, a seminar for health care providers about antibiotic use and resistance will be held, as well as several local events around ...

3Qs: The effect of antibiotic resistant bacteria

Oct 02, 2013

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report titled Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013, that served as a first-ever snapshot of the effect antibiotic ...

'Stressed' bacteria become resistant to antibiotics

Feb 21, 2013

Bacteria become resistant to antibiotics when stressed, finds research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology. In particular E. coli grown at high temperatures become resistant to rifampicin ...

Recommended for you

Evidence-based recs issued for systemic care in psoriasis

11 hours ago

(HealthDay)—For appropriately selected patients with psoriasis, combining biologics with other systemic treatments, including phototherapy, oral medications, or other biologic, may result in greater efficacy ...

Bacteria in caramel apples kills at least four in US

12 hours ago

A listeria outbreak believed to originate from commercially packaged caramel apples has killed at least four people in the United States and sickened 28 people since November, officials said Friday.

Steroid-based treatment may answer needs of pediatric EoE patients

12 hours ago

A new formulation of oral budesonide suspension, a steroid-based treatment, is safe and effective in treating pediatric patients with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), according to a new study in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, the official clinical practice journal ...

Discovery of genes that predispose a severe form of COPD

15 hours ago

A study by Ramcés Falfán-Valencia, researcher at the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases (INER), found that the mestizo Mexican population has a number of variations in certain genes that predispose ...

On the environmental trail of food pathogens

16 hours ago

Tracking one of the deadliest food contamination organisms through produce farms and natural environments alike, Cornell microbiologists are showing how to use big datasets to predict where the next outbreak could start.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.