|ANTIBIOTICS FEED BACTERIA|
Science April 4 2008
Antibiotic drugs are supposed to kill bacteria, not feed them. Yet Harvard researchers have uncovered thousands of germs in soil that literally thrive on antibiotics, using the drugs as their only source of food. These bacteria resist antibiotics in an unforeseen way. It's important to understand how they do this before even more dangerous bacteria develop the same ability.
It is not a surprise that soil bacteria can eat some antibiotics; some had already been found to do so. Instead, the surprise was how many bacteria didn't just survive but flourished when fed 18 different antibiotics - including such staples as gentamicin, vancomycin and Cipro - that represent the major classes used in treating people and animals.
Researchers gathered soil from 11 spots in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, from city parks to pristine forest to a cornfield fertilized with antibiotic-containing manure.
Bacteria prefer to eat sugars, like rotting fruit. Put in laboratory dishes to subsist only on antibiotics, the germs grew a little more slowly but the researchers found every drug tested could support growth of some bacteria. More disturbing, a number of bacteria could withstand levels of antibiotics that were 50-100x higher than would be given to a patient.
The bacteria were incredibly resistant, able to live on the antibiotics for an extended period of time.
The finding comes amid increasing concern that many infections could soon become untreatable, as more bacteria become immune to today's antibiotics.
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