Antibiotic resistance evolution

How Antibiotic Resistance Evolves and Why This Happens

About Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic resistance means the ability of bacteria to withstand the effects of antibacterials (antibiotics). Infections caused by bacteria can be life-threatening, and even simple ones can only be treated with the use of antibacterials. Today, the production of antibiotics is massive, and it helps people from all over the world feel safer. These drugs are used for the treatment of bacterial infections in the urinary tract, strep throat, some pneumonia, and many others. Unfortunately, bacteria may become resistant to medications, which makes it impossible to use them for the treatment of even minor infections.

Bacteria are highly adapting species to the changing in the environment and attacks against them, using different mechanisms. They are constantly evolving, forcing people to develop new potent antibiotics and find other ways to be one step ahead.

Discovery of Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic resistance evolution is closely tied with the invention and uses of antibiotics. Bacteria were discovered in the late 19th century, which initiated the search for potent medications able to fight infections caused by them.

The first valuable breakthrough happened in 1928 when penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming, which became the inception of a new era in medicine.  Later, this discovery earned the inventor the Nobel Prize. After several years of the antibiotic use, Fleming warned people about antibiotic resistance. Since this time, many other antibiotics have been discovered, which saved a countless number of lives.

In 1937, sulfonamides were introduced, and soon people noticed the development of antibiotic resistance. Resistance to sulfonamide was reported in the late 1930s, and the same mechanisms of resistance work today. According to the recent database lists, there are over 20,000 potential resistance genes of about 400 types.

How Antibiotic Resistance Evolves

Antibiotic resistance evolution is a natural process occurred through mutation, but it can also be caused by an evolutionary stress. Bacteria are able to transfer the genetic information between individuals thanks to plasmid exchange. This means that once antibiotic resistance occurs, it becomes available to other strains. Bacterium with several resistance genes is called a superbug.

Several studies have proven that antibiotic resistance evolves due to the extensive use of antibacterials. That is why it is so important to eliminate the overuse of these medications.

According to researchers, LexA, the bacterial protein, may be important for creating mutants. Today, one of the major resistant pathogens is Staphylococcus aureus.

Researchers have managed to create a large culturing device that is able to track the evolution of bacteria and the way they mutate under the effects of antibiotics. It was surprising for the scientists to discover that not the fittest mutants were able to withstand the effects of higher antibiotic concentrations, but the bacteria “behind” them.

The results of the research have provided important information about the evolutionary mechanisms and patterns, which make bacteria resistant to drugs.

Michael Baym and colleagues and his team have created a MEGA plate, a model allowing observing the process of mutating bacteria. It has been revealed that descendants of mutants tend to migrate to new territories.

Initially, the low-resistance mutants occur, then moderately resistant species developed, and, finally, those that are highly resistant to antibiotics appear. It takes about 11 days for mutants to become resistant.

How to Prevent Antibiotic Resistance

In order to eliminate the threat of being unable to treat bacterial infections, the world’s leaders have to cooperate in term of financing and supporting by other ways the research on the topic, the development of new drugs, and increasing people’s awareness about the problems.

We can do simple actions in order to help in solving this problem, including the following:

  • Avoid using antibiotics for the treatment of infections caused by viruses, including common cold, influenza, a sore throat, or a runny nose;
  • Strictly follow recommendations of a healthcare provider regarding the use of antibacterials;
  • Do not use antibiotics that were not prescribed for you, and do not share your medications with other people.