Bacterial Infections: A Quarter of all Deaths and Rising
I’ve reported before on evolutionary biology and how important and rare it is to inject this thinking into medicine and public health. Frequency research can be used to target specific bacteria for elimination mimicking the strategies now being used in antibiotic research.
For any new antibiotic, resistant bacteria typically show up in four years, or less. Penicillin resistance was reported clinically even before large-scale use of the antibiotic began in 1942. The battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria demands new drugs and smarter, more responsible ways to use existing ones. Some researchers, however, are pursuing another type of weapon: drugs that sidestep natural selection. Less virulent bacteria would decrease the need for antibiotics, some reason, and drugs that drastically slow mutation rates might cut off evolution’s power source.
Evaluating nonkilling approaches in the lab and clinic is tricky, and outfoxing evolution in the real world could prove even more difficult. Bacteria have evolved their way past ostensibly impenetrable barriers a number of times. Still, even if new approaches only hold off the inevitable, they could be a big win. “Half a loaf is better than none,” says Abigail Salyers, professor of microbiology at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Moreover, since microbe defenses develop so quickly, staying ahead of these pathogens requires more than new drugs that kill bacteria in new ways.