A major problem facing modern health services is the emergence of strains of pathogenic bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics. After decades of relying on antibiotics to treat bacterial infections, resistant strains have evolved numerous drug resisting strategies which include:
- the production of compounds which can inactivate the antibiotic
- cell pumps that can expel antibiotic molecules from inside the bacterial cell
- mutations in the antibiotic target molecule
These new cellular abilities are enabled by the transformation of the original bacterial genotype with some foreign DNA. These genes are usually provided by DNA in plasmid form. The rapid reproductive abilities of prokaryotic cells and the process of natural selection have led to the rise of these resistant pathogens.
Infections by strains of bacteria which are resistant to modern antibiotics are forcing doctors to prescribe old antibiotics. There are however two major problems with this action. Many of these drugs were discarded decades ago due to the frequency and severity of different side effects that were experienced. Exposing these resistant strains to further antibiotics also enables the possible evolution of a superbug, which is a species of bacteria that is resistant to all available antibiotics.
There does not currently exist a method of treating infections involving antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria that does not risk either the health of the patient or the development of further resistance. Detrimental health implications will arise on a global scale if bacterial infections are unable to be treated.
By William Buswell
Goodchild, L 2008, Running out of Treatments: The problem superbugs resistant to everything, viewed 29 March 2008, http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-03/sfgm-roo032808.php