Antibiotic Soil Snacks

I thought antibiotics were supposed to kill bacteria, not give them a tasty treat to eat. Lauran Neergaard of the Associated Press explains:
These bacteria outwit antibiotics in a disturbingly novel way, and now the race is on to figure out just how they do it - in case more dangerous germs that sicken people could develop the same ability.


On the other hand, the work explains why the soil doesn't harbor big antibiotic buildups despite use of the drugs in livestock plus human disposal and, well, excretion, too.

"Thank goodness we have those bacteria to eat at least some of the antibiotics," said bacteriologist Jo Handelsman of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who wasn't involved in the study. "Nature's pretty effective."

The discovery, published in Friday's edition of the journal Science, came about almost by accident.

A team led by Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church has a Department of Energy grant to develop ways to create biofuels from agriculture waste. Plants are full of natural toxins, so the goal was to find microorganisms in soil capable of breaking down certain of those chemicals. To winnow down the strongest candidates, they tried exposing these bacteria to what should have been far more toxic substances, antibiotics.
Is this good or bad? Surely, we don’t want our environment polluted with manmade substances, but doesn't this news also support the theory that our antibiotics are losing their effectiveness?
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