A New Antibiotic Resistance Gene in Bacteria

Since their discovery in the early 20th century, antibiotics have played a crucial role in fighting diseases and infections across the globe. Their ability to destroy pathogenic bacteria has saved millions of lives.. However, according to some scientists, the days of antibiotics are severely numbered. The overuse of antibiotics in both humans and livestock has led to a growth in the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. Just recently, scientists in the United States discovered a bug in the urine of a Pennsylvania woman that is resistant to every type of antibiotic, even those reserved for the most serious illnesses.

The woman mentioned above carried inside of her a strain of E. Coli that was resistant to the antibiotic colistin. Colistin is an antibiotic that has, until now, been reserved as a last resort remedy for people carrying extremely harmful pathogens that can cause severe infections or kill their victims, such as CRE. While this is, for the moment, an isolated case, many scientists now worry that antibiotic resistant pathogens could become a serious health risk across the country and across the globe. Prior to this discovery, the same antibiotic resistant gene had already been found occasionally in bacteria in livestock and humans in China and Europe, but never before in the United States.

The inevitable decline in the usefulness of antibiotics that is likely to happen is the direct result of the overuse of antibiotics like colistin in livestock in countries like China, where regulation is lacking. The consequences could be dire. Many people who are infected with tough, antibiotic resistant bacteria in the future could be left entirely helpless and untreatable.

 So what can be done to prevent deadly outbreaks of super bacteria? Most scientists agree that the only way to stop epidemics of this sort from spreading is to detect them early by monitoring sick people and the genes of the bacteria within them. Last year, congress approved a bill that gave $150 million to the CDC to finance detection of antibiotic resistant bacteria at the state and local levels.