When it comes to using antibiotics, it seems the "less is more" philosophy might be a logical approach. This is what a new study suggests.
Antibiotics Make E. Coli Grow Faster
Supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, a British agency that provides research grants, scientists at the University of Exeter in England successfully stimulated bacterial growth using antibiotics.
The study exposed Escherichia coli, the infamous food-poisoning bacteria, to eight courses of antibiotic treatment — including doxycycline — for four straight days. Their findings show that, as expected, the disease-causing bacteria became more resistant to antibiotics after each treatment.
But there's more — researchers were astounded upon discovering that mutated E.coli multiplied faster post-antibiotics, producing populations three times larger than before. The researchers stopped the antibiotics, but the evolutionary changes to the E.coli bacteria did not stop.
"Bacteria have a remarkable ability to rearrange their DNA and this can stop drugs working, sometimes in a matter of days," Robert Beardmore, the lead author of the study, explained.
Dubbed as the "uber-bug," samples of the evolved E.coli bacteria were safely frozen at -80 degrees Celsius. To find out which DNA changes triggered the never-before-seen evolution, the scientists used genetic sequencing.
Antibiotic Resistance — A Global Epidemic
The World Health Organization sees antibiotic resistance as a global health concern.
Over time, antibiotic resistance has made common infectious diseases harder and harder to treat, prolonged suffering from illnesses and hospital stays needlessly, and raised the existing risk of infections from typical medical procedures (such as chemotherapy and dialysis) and major hospital surgeries (caesarian-section birth and heart bypass). One of the world's most public health concerns, antibiotic resistance also causes serious complications that lead to permanent disability or even death.
On its website, the WHO listed a whole gamut of antibiotics that are now considered ineffective in addressing various diseases because of antibiotic resistance. These include fluoroquinolone antibiotics (E. coli) for urinary tract infection, carbapenem antibiotics (Klebsiella pneumonia) for pneumonia and hospital-acquired infections, cephalosporin as a last-resort treatment for gonorrhea, and colistin (Enterobacteriaceae) as a last-resort treatment for life-threatening infections.
Dr. Mark Hewlett, a co-author of the study published in the online journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, noted that the result of their research puts an emphasis on the importance of using the right antibiotics in clinical settings, as opposed to experimenting with different ones to see which will work.