• Question: Would it be possible for bacteria to evolve to the point of complete immunity to all presently available antibiotics ?

    Asked by Ramy to Aoife, Brian, Conor, Louise, Matthew on 10 Nov 2016.
    • Photo: Louise Mc Grath

      Louise Mc Grath answered on 10 Nov 2016:

      Hi Ramy!

      I think it would be possible for bacteria to become immune to antibiotics as Staphylococcus aureus (‘golden staph’ or MRSA) is now almost always resistant to benzyl penicillin. I don’t know if it would become resistant to other antibiotics quickly but it has the potential to become immune to the antibiotics which are meant to treat it.

      Research and new antibiotics are constantly being carried out, so I doubt we will ever see a day when they all become resistant to all antibiotics. This is due to the fact that there is a plan in place to prevent this from happening, and it is called the Global Action Plan. As part of this plan they will:
      1. make people aware of resistant bacteria and how to prevent it.
      2. monitor the bacteria strains and research it
      3. try to reduce infection by bringing in good hygiene practices
      4. make sure we use antibiotics correctly
      5. continue to research new drugs
      All information can be found here if you are interested: http://www.who.int/antimicrobial-resistance/global-action-plan/en/

    • Photo: Matthew Kitching

      Matthew Kitching answered on 10 Nov 2016:

      Hi Ramy,

      Bacteria are tricky little blighters! Because the reproduce so quickly (ecoli can divide every 20 minutes) they can evolve really quickly. Whats even more clever, bacteria have developed a trick – called horizontal gene transfer – which means when one bacteria has become resistant, it can pass that resistance on to other bacteria around it. How do they do that, i hear you ask? well, bacteria keep a lot of the antibiotic resistance genes on small circular pieces of DNA called plasmids. A single bacteria can have many different types of plasmid with different resistance genes on them. The bacteria can make a copy of this plasmid and then inject it into other bacteria its touching – spreading resistance.

      so can bacteria evolve to become totally antibiotic resistant? Well i don’t want to worry you, but there have been reports that this has already happened in some places in the world (not all bacteria, just a special strain). But never fear! science is here! researchers all over the world are working on new antibiotics to try and beat these bacteria, and come up with completely new ways to treat antibiotic resistance! One super cool way is to use viruses (called bacteriophage) that only make bacteria sick and not us. But theres lots of different ways being tried to make sure we can beat the bugs!

      If you want to become a scientist, maybe you can help us come up with completely new ways to defeat the bacteria? Come join us!