Chapter 3 : Bacteria Reveal Their Adaptability, Threatening the Brief Reign of Antibiotics

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In recent years, bacteria have fought back by taking advantage of their own adaptive powers to become resistant to antibiotics. In this chapter, the author strives to present a more optimistic view of our future, but public concern about the declining efficacy of antibiotics and where this trend might lead is understandable. Bacteria have evolved three types of strategies for circumventing the action of antibiotics. First, the bacteria can destroy the antibiotic before it hits their vulnerable parts, a kind of antiballistic missile approach. A second bacterial strategy is to take advantage of the fact that any compound that binds to a bacterial target, with a view to stopping its action, has to reach a threshold concentration in order to bind effectively. A third bacterial strategy is to chemically modify or mutate the target of the antibiotic so that the antibiotic no longer binds. Some bacteria prevent antibiotics from harming their ribosomes, which are essential for synthesizing bacterial proteins, by modifying some component of the ribosome so that the antibiotic can no longer bind to the ribosome. Antibiotics are designed to interfere with bacterial components and processes that are essential for bacterial survival. Scientists and physicians are now beginning to realize that another approach is needed—finding ways to prevent the development of bacterial resistance. Options include more prudent use of antibiotics to reduce the selection pressures that encourage resistant bacteria to emerge. Another strategy is directly targeting and inactivating bacterial mechanisms for resisting antibiotics.

Citation: Salyers A, Whitt D. 2005. Bacteria Reveal Their Adaptability, Threatening the Brief Reign of Antibiotics, p 26-35. In Revenge of the Microbes. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817602.ch3
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