Bacteria defeat antibiotics they have never met before
Bacteria that resist antibiotics are a growing problem worldwide, but one we thought we could limit or even reverse by better control of the drugs. The situation may be more complicated: some bacteria that have never seen an antibiotic can evolve resistance, and even thrive on it. Bacteria usually become resistant if they are exposed to drug levels too low to kill them off, but high enough to favour the survival of resistant mutants. Such resistance is growing and could make TB and other diseases untreatable again. The prevailing notion was that bacteria acquire and maintain resistance genes at a cost. So by carefully controlling antibiotics, we should keep resistance from emerging by itself and any that does emerge due to antibiotic misuse should die out as soon as the drug is withdrawn and resistance is no longer an advantage. Maybe not. Olivier Tenaillon at Denis Diderot University, Paris, and colleagues were studying bacterial evolution by exposing Escherichia coli to high temperatures and little food. Unexpectedly, some bacteria spontaneously became resistant to the antibiotic rifampicin, even though they had never encountered it. The mutation that helped them deal with environmental stress just happened to confer resistance to the drug, used to treat TB and meningitis. “Our work suggests that selective pressure other than antibiotics may drive resistance,” says Tenaillon. Moreover, bacteria with the mutation grew 20 per cent faster than otherwise-identical bacteria a first for a resistance mutation. It only had this beneficial effect in the heat-adapted strain, says Arjan de Visser of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who was not involved in the study. But, he adds, “these results are a cautionary tale for the use of antibiotics resistance may come without costs [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][to bacteria]”.