The current superbug epidemic may take a turn for the worse as recent research showed that certain bacteria not only develop resistance to antibiotics, but may also copy and assimilate characteristics from their rival microorganisms that may further strengthen their immunity. The study published in the journal Cell Reports shed light on how certain bacteria species fortify their defenses against antibiotics.
Researchers at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel observed that certain species of bacteria were equipped with two special skills. The scientists noted that the first skill entails the bacteria’s ability to attack their competitors by injecting them with toxic proteins known as effectors using a poison syringe called type VI secretion system (T6SS). This then leads to cell lysis and death, the scientists added. The experts further explained that the second skill is the bacteria’s ability to uptake and reuse the released genetic material from their competitors.
“The T6SS, as well as a set of different effectors, can also be found in other pathogens such as those which cause pneumonia or cholera. We have also been able to identify the corresponding immunity proteins of the five toxic effectors in the predator cells. For the bacteria it makes absolute sense to produce not only a single toxin, but a cocktail of various toxins with different effects. This increases the likelihood that the rivals can be successfully eliminated and in some cases also lysed to release their DNA,” researcher Professor Marek Basler told Science Daily online.
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The scientists based their research on a model organism called Acinetobacter baylyi, a close relative of the Iraq bug. The experts were able to identify five various bacterial effectors, some of which can effectively kill bacterial competition without destroying the cells, while others can severely damage the rival bacteria’s cell envelope and result in lysis and release of DNA fragments. The researchers cautioned that if the DNA fragments of the rival bacteria contain drug resistance genes, the specific resistance may be passed on to the predatory bacteria. This would render the predatory bacteria more resistant to antibiotics, the health experts concluded.
WHO recommends ways to stop antibiotic resistance
Marc Sprenger, director of the World Health Organization‘s (WHO) secretariat for antimicrobial resistance, explained that biology may be behind this resistance to some extent. According to Sprenger, many infections are quickly becoming resistant to life-saving drugs as these medications will inevitably lose their potency over time. (Related: Superbug apocalypse rapidly approaching as nearly one-quarter of infections now UNTREATABLE with first line antibiotics)
“We are speeding up the process dramatically by using antibiotics too much and often in the wrong contexts. We need to slow down the development and spread of resistance so that the antibiotics we have continue to work for as long as possible. We also urgently need to devote more resources to the research and development of new antibiotics,” Sprenger said.
In line with this, the WHO released prescription guidelines in order to mitigate the risk of antibiotic resistance. The WHO noted that many antibiotics are prescribed for conditions caused by viruses, which do not really deliver good results. Physicians, veterinarians, and other health care personnel were urged to avoid prescribing or dispensing antibiotics unless it is necessary and when all medical tests are used to determine which drug the patient needs. The WHO also stressed on the importance of sanitizing the hands, medical instruments, and the environment to prevent infections.
Likewise, patients and people working in the agricultural industry were advised to use antibiotics only when prescribed by health care professionals. The WHO also called on various governments to implement robust national action plans to address antibiotic resistance. The organization cited critical steps in tackling the problem, which include increased surveillance of antibiotic-resistant infections, improved regulation of medicine use, and widespread education about the effects of drug overuse.
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