Antibiotic resistance is emerging as a major issue in human and animal healthcare. The development of antibiotics made an enormous difference to our ability to treat and control infectious disease caused by bacteria. Quite apart from the ability to cure people of infections like tuberculosis and diphtheria, they also make it possible for people to benefit from cancer treatments and surgery such as hip transplants when they are particularly susceptible to infection by bacteria which would not cause a problem in other circumstances.
Resistance to antibiotics was anticipated by the scientists who discovered the first antibiotics. Alexander Fleming noted in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily under-dose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.”
We now know that the development of resistance is an inexorable process, as inevitable as the process of evolution itself.
Here, we will look at how antibiotics were developed, how resistance emerges, and what we can do about it.
1. How were the majority of antibiotics discovered? Why do you think these antibiotics were discovered rather than invented?
2. How does antibiotic resistance develop within populations of bacteria and how does it spread?
3. What can we do to reduce either the amount of antibiotic resistance, or reduce its impact?
4. Should we change the way we deal with bacterial infections or should we just keep developing new antibiotics?