A study published in April in Nature Chemical Biology reveals that scientists have determined the mechanisms by which some bacteria are not only resistant to antibiotics designed to destroy them, they also feed on them.
Bacteria's Terrifying New Skill
The leader of the study, associate professor of immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine in Missouri Gautam Dantas, relayed that these findings are ten years in the making. This is when they discovered that bacteria can eat antibiotics. It was a shocking revelation.
The good news is that these findings might be able to assist scientists by genetically engineering bacteria that can feast on the antibiotics that end up in the soil and waterways from livestock farming and industrial waste.
The Transformation Of Antibiotics
Antibiotics, discovered in the 1920s, are a medical technology that have preserved life in the tens of millions, effectively overcoming diseases like meningitis, pneumonia, and tuberculosis.
Since then, bacteria have evolved to resist and fight back against the very antibiotics created to eradicate them, sometimes rendering the antibiotics less effective.
When people do not finish their course of antibiotic treatment, it allows the bacteria, which has not quite been killed, an opportunity to not only recover but build immunity. The use of antibiotics in modern agriculture is also at fault, the result an environment saturated with active drugs that are released into the water system and earth through urine and feces.
Using Their Weaknesses To Our Benefit
With this new information, scientists are seeing hope in cleaning up lakes, rivers, and soil contaminated by antibiotics using the antibiotic-eating bacteria itself. However, because the process by which bacteria eat antibiotics is extremely slow, cleaning up the contamination would not be effective unless scientists could figure out a way to speed it up.
Still, just knowing that bacteria eat antibiotics and how it works makes it easier to design an effective system to help prevent this problem.