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Molecular Healing: Antibiotics and Mutating Bacteria

Posted Aug 24 2008 9:51pm
I think it was in the movie Jurrasic Park where mathematician Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) said "life finds a way." What he was referring to was the ability of the reconstituted dinosaurs to mutate into both male and female sexes despite the park's scientists attempts to control the population by just cloning females.

Well, fantasy meets fact when it comes to the microbiological world. Antibiotics have been wonderful healing weapons in the lilliputian war against bacterial infections. Hey, just think of the last time you took some. If it wasn't for these wondrous drugs you might just die from a simple cut. Don't forget the average life span around the turn of the century (1899) was only 49 years old! A lot of people died from infections in the pre-antibiotic world.

But have we indulged in our use of antibiotics to the point of causing more harm than good? Have we fallen prey to the "too much of a good thing can hurt you" philosophy? It appears that bacterial life is finding a way--a way to mutate into more antibiotic resistant forms. These dangerous strains of bacteria are responsible for 100,000 (amazing isn't it) hospital deaths per year. Is bacteria trying to take over the Earth? Not if we can help it. Our scientists are catching on to the mutation game.

Recently a new mathematical model for prescribing antibiotics was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is complicated stuff calculating all the cross contamination data and such but some valuable trends have emerged.

For example just a 3 day difference in prescribing antibiotics can dramatically reduce the cross-infection rate. Also, patients on antibiotics become a source of infection. The antibiotics kill off the body's normal bacteria allowing the foreign bacteria to take over for awhile. Eventually the antibiotics also kill off the bad boy bacteria but until they do the patient risks infecting others.

The new model works to optimize the prescription of antibiotics in order to minimize cross infection which leads to further mutations. The researchers have already found that hospitals need to use antibiotics quickly and for short durations to reduce cross infection.

The medical profession overall has already begun to respond to the problem of mutating bacteria by reducing antibiotic prescriptions. Hey, maybe there will be a resurgence of alternative treatments for mild cases.


Vanderbilt University (2008, February 22). Changing The Way Antibiotics Are Prescribed May Be Key To Controlling Epidemics. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 27, 2008, from­ /releases/2008/02/080217102145.htm
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