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Scientists stunned as common bacteria quickly transform into drug-resistant superbugs


(NaturalNews) For years we have been warning of an impending medical catastrophe due to the over-prescribing and overuse of antibiotics. In fact, as we reported last year, hospitals are some of the most prolific breeding grounds for drug-resistant superbugs, killing more patients a year than measles.

Now, scientists have captured the horror of superbug creation on video, which you can watch here, compliments of NPR. Researchers from Harvard Medical School filmed a horrifying experiment in which they created a bacteria that is 1,000 times more drug-resistant than their ancestors. The time-lapse video shows a white bacterial colony spreading across a large black petri dish with vertical bands of progressively higher doses of antibiotics.

As you watch, you'll see that the colony pauses its expansion after reaching the first band of antibiotics, forming a distinct border between the white spreading colony and the black petri dish. However, the bacteria then begin edging into the toxic mass, and more dots appear and begin growing. They then sprint towards the next band of antibiotics. At the same time, the bacteria are evolving into a different strain, able to withstand more and higher doses of antibiotics. After two weeks, they have become resistant to the strongest antibiotic employed and have taken over the plate-sized black petri dish. Along the way, each evolving strain survives by taking over and absorbing competing mutant strains.

Scary stuff, indeed.

New technique shows how stronger strains crowd out weaker, more drug-resistant strains

Scientists are aware that bacteria are getting stronger and stronger with each passing year. They also note that is in large part the fault of both the medical community and uniformed patients who tend to insist upon being prescribed "something" for their illness. That usually takes the form of an antibiotic, even for viral infections (antibiotics have no effect on viruses). And far too many health care providers willingly oblige. The end result is getting more dangerous all the time: As NPR reported, 23,000 people die in the U.S. alone each year as a result of infections by superbugs. However, it isn't typical to see a superbug actually develop.

Tami Lieberman, an evolutionary microbiologist at MIT, says that to most, evolution is just a conceptual construct. She and her Ph.D. advisor, Roy Kishony, of Harvard Medical School, hoped to build a model that would depict a more concrete example of how superbugs evolve. "The goal was to see evolution, not to abstract it," she told NPR.

The video, along with their report and observations, were published recently in the journal Science.

In having the E. coli bacteria grow across progressively higher antibiotic doses, the researchers were able to create images of an evolving bacterial as it spread across the petri dish. However, the concept had another effect that the scientists had not anticipated. As faster growing colonies of resistant bacteria were growing, they cut off the growth of slower colonies that are more drug resistant. That effect compounded the success of the faster-growing, more resistant colonies.

Experiment makes it easier for scientists to study superbug development

Scientists note that as bacteria evolve in terms of drug resistance, that generally comes at some expense to the bug. If antibiotics are present, the faster-growing colonies usually don't grow as much as the slower ones, NPR reported. However, many times that is of no consequence because if a strain wants to survive, it merely needs to be the first to move on to the next human or food source.

Michael Baym, the post-doctoral candidate who built the 4 foot-by-two foot petri dish in Kishony's lab, said that the superbug phenomenon "has been very, very tough to study classically." But using his model, it is very easy to demonstrate how a superbug evolves into something more and more difficult to kill.

The idea is, if scientists can actually see the concept, they can begin to make strides in studying the phenomenon. Utilizing something as simple as a massive petri dish might be just what scientists introduce a concept into the lab that has been missing, according to Pamela Yeh, a UCLA microbiologist who did not take part in the experiment. "Hopefully this will put back in people's minds how important the spatial element can be," she said.

"Getting more people to understand how quickly bacteria evolve antibiotic resistance might help people understand why they shouldn't be prescribed antibiotics. The drug resistance is not some abstract threat. It's real," added Lieberman.






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