The brief video below is a plea to reduce our use of antibiotics. As the more we use them, the more the bacteria find ways to resist them, thereby rendering our drugs ineffective. So much so that a UK government-commissioned report predicts that Superbugs will kill more people than cancer by 2050.
But why do bacteria fight back against our drugs? Why don’t they just lay down and die like we wished they would?
The answer lies in the long — long — history of bugs. Theirs too has been a struggle for survival. But they have one distinct advantage over us: they’ve been doing it since almost the beginning of time.
Here’s how infectious disease specialist Brad Spellberg, MD, explains it in his book Rising Plague: The Global Threat From Deadly Bacteria And Our Dwindling Arsenal To Fight Them:
Human beings did not invent antibiotics, we merely discovered them. Virtually all of the antibiotics we now use are either harvested directly from microbes or are made synthetically based on the design of naturally occurring antibiotics. … Microbes first invented both antibiotics and resistance mechanisms to defeat those antibiotics more than two billion years ago. In contrast, antibiotics were not discovered by humans until the first half of the twentieth century. Hence, microbes have had collective experience creating and defeating antibiotics for twenty million times longer than Homo sapiens have known antibiotics existed. Indeed, so experienced and successful are bacteria at developing resistance to antibiotics that some have actually evolved to be able to survive by ingesting and using antibiotics as their only food source!
And oncologist, researcher, and Pulitzer prize-winning author, Sid Mukherjee, MD, reminds us in his new book The Gene: An Intimate History, that bacteria’s two billion plus year history has been a struggle for survival against another vaunted enemy too — the virus:
“Bacteria have been at war with viruses for so long and with such ferocity that like ancient conjoined enemies each has been defined by the other: their mutual animosity has been imprinted in their genes. Viruses have evolved genetic mechanisms to invade and kill bacteria. And bacteria have counter-evolved genes to fight back. ‘A viral infection is a ticking time bomb … A bacterium has only a few minutes to diffuse the bomb — before it gets destroyed itself.’”
As you watch the video and see the six ways bugs fight off our drugs — thus becoming Superbugs — remember, they’ve refined this protection over some two billion years. In other words, they’re here to stay. Then we show up with “our” antibiotic weapons a mere 75 years ago. So as between their weaponry and ours, and in the ensuing arms race between us, whose side is history on?