Solutions to Antibiotic Resistance

Asked February 9, 2019, 12:49 AM EST

My understanding of the role of antibiotics is to kill or prevent reproduction of bacteria that are susceptible to the killing/sterilizing mechanism of the antibiotic. Resistance stems from the survival of bacteria that has encountered a specific antibiotic or has been passed genetic information from other bacteria that has encountered said antibiotic. If, in essence, survival of the fittest bacteria is causing antibiotic resistance, has anyone tried enhancing the survivability of bacteria with less harmful characteristics? Would selecting for harmlessness to humans (or animals), which eliminates the use of antibiotics and therefore bacteria death, be effective in reducing resistance and harmful bacterial health effects? Just curious.

Clark County Nevada

1 Response

You are correct in your understanding of antibiotics. Most antibiotics function by targeting a specific or generic system within bacterial cells that either slow their growth or kill them. Bacteria evade or survive the exposure to the antibiotic based on their genetics and mutation. Since an antibiotic relies on targeting or exploiting a bacterial system to function, through mutations, bacteria develop either alternative mechanisms to evade the antibiotic or perhaps actively attack the antibiotic by pumping it out of the cell or developing enzymes to inactivate the antibiotic. Those bacteria that have developed these mechanisms and are able to proliferate are then deemed resistant.
Now, if you are referring to enhancing less harmful bacteria such as benign, commensal bacteria within your gut, for instance, then yes that's been done. In fact there is an entire food-based industry around it. Additionally, there's been an effort within food producing animal industries as well. Now, if you're referring to ehancing survivability of "harmless" or less harmful pathogens, then at this point it's done in a few instance not really related to your point. In some cases, science has attenuated bacterial pathogens to deliver gene therapy, but not really what you are referring to. The problem with attenuating any pathogen is the off chance of it reverting to its virulent state. As of right now, most of the work is around enhancing our protective microbiota to keep pathogens out.