Soil Microbes Go Beyond Antibiotic Resistance to Eating Antibiotics

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Antibiotic resistance, the ability of microbes to survive the effects of antibiotics, causes ever greater levels of concern among scientists responsible for identifying threats to human health. The increasing doses of antibiotics given to animals in factory farming operations or hidden in household products like dish soap or shampoo, leading to increasing releases of antibiotics to water and soils, have provided the perfect evolutionary pressure for the bugs that develop resistance to thrive.

The bugs that can either eliminate antibiotics before being harmed themselves, or that can modify antibiotics to a less harmful substance, earned the name "superbugs".

Beyond Superbugs: Microbes Eating Antibiotics

Scientists have now found yet another step in the evolution of microscopic creatures triggered by the increasing presence of antibiotics in the environment. The American Society of Agronomy reports that a group of Canadian and French scientists have identified a bacterium in soil that does not merely eliminate the antibiotics, but actively digests the chemicals for nutrition.

This result will not come as a surprise to those who work in the Clean Tech sector. One of the main tricks in the development of microbes capable of eating pollutants consists of growing microbes in an environment that is poor in traditional nutrients and rich in the target pollutants. Over a number of generations, the microbes "learn" to eat the pollutants -- and can then be released into our messes for the benefit of humankind.

Solution to Superbug Problem?

The deliberate application of microbes capable of eating antibiotics close to source points of agricultural run-off may provide an option that could lead to reduced development of resistant superbugs. If the bugs that degrade antibiotics can reduce the concentrations released into the wider environment, there would be less opportunity for the pathogens that threaten human health to evolve resistance to the antibiotics needed to treat illnesses caused by those pathogens.

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Tags: Antibiotics | Evolution