Some Superbugs Are Even More Super Than We Thought

By Joseph Castro | August 1, 2011 5:10 pm

spacing is importantE. coli.

Scientists have generally thought that superbugs are weaker than normal bacteria in drug-free environments because they expend more resources to maintain resistances, as seen by their slower cell-division rates. But researchers have now reported in the journal PLoS Genetics that some antibiotic-resistant superbugs can out-perform their normal cousins even when there are no drugs present. The results suggest that fighting these resilient bacteria will take more than just curbing antibiotic use.

In the study, researchers saw that 10 percent of drug-resistant strains of E.coli divided faster than non-resistant bacteria when grown in a dish. Even more alarming, when these bacteria—which gained their resistances through mutations—picked up additional resistances from other bacteria, the number of superbugs that could divide faster than normal bacteria jumped to 32 percent. Moreover, around half of these new strains of E. coli divided even faster than those with only a single resistance. “It is as if your PC with a mistake or bug in the operating system began to run faster after receiving a computer virus,” lead researcher Francisco Dionisio told The Huffington Post.

[Read more New Scientist, The Huffington Post, and PLoS Genetics]

Image courtesy of Eric Erbe and Christopher Pooley, USDA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Richard

    This result sucks.

  • not too smart

    back in the 1980’s as a nurse in intensive care we frequently cleared our syringes of amts of drug we did not want to inject into iv by just squirting them into the air did i help cause this problem? Please serious, educated answers only please

  • TheCritic

    As far as who caused the problem, you need not look at yourself and take any responsibility for it. There’s no need to wonder about something such as that. There’s no real way of knowing. Does the general overuse of antibiotics help cause this problem? Yes. Does the widespread use of anti-microbials that kill bacteria as oppose to soaps (which for those who are not chemically inclined do not insomuch kill the bacteria as facilitate their removal). Could you possibly have killed some weaker bacteria by doing this? Possibly. Would it have been significant? No.

    If you want to feel better about it, just make sure that if your doctor prescribes antibiotics, ask if you really need them. Don’t say it as if to doubt his judgment, but in a manner that’s asking if he thinks you’d be just fine without them. However, if he does prescribe them. Everyone who ever takes antibiotics should ALWAYS take them until they run out of the antibiotic. One of the largest factors contributing to this problem is peoples’ reluctance to finish a prescribed round of antibiotics.


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