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01/12/2014

Actionbioscience|Microbes:WhatTheyDo&HowAntibioticsChangeThem
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Microbes:WhatTheyDo&HowAntibioticsChangeThem
MauraMeadeCallahan
articlehighlights
Antibioticsandantibacterialscandomoredamagethangoodwhenthey:
killgoodbacteriainsidethehumanbody
destroymicrobesthatcleanuppollution
leadtoantibioticresistanceinmicroorganisms
maketreatmentofsomediseasesdifficultwhenoverused

January2001

Antibioticsand
antibacterialshave
mademicrobes
tougher.

Microorganismsbacteria,archaea,fungi,algae,virusesandprotistsare
ofteneasytooverlook.Forthemostpart(exceptfungalfruitingbodiesseenas
mushrooms)wecantseemicrobes.Theeffectsofmicrobeswefeelareusually
associatedwithanillness.Mostpeopleknowthatbacteriaandvirusescanactas
germsandcausedisease.Becauseofthisitseemsperfectlyacceptabletotryto
wipeallofthegermsoutofourenvironmentbyusingantibacterialagents(found
ineverythingfromhandsoaptosweatsocks)andantibiotics.However,ouruse
ofantibioticsandantibacterialagentsischangingthemicrobesinour
environment,makingthegermstoughertobeatandeliminatingsomebeneficial
microbes.

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Beneficialfunctionsofmicroorganisms
Microorganismsareessentialtoourveryexistence.Theyareubiquitous,foundin
commonenvironmentssuchassoil,water,andairaswellasexoticlocalesas
diverseasdeepseahydrothermalventsandsodalimelakes.Inthesenatural
environmentsmicroorganismshaveveryspecificjobs.Theyareresponsiblefor
recyclingnutrientsinoursoilandpurifyingourwater.Wealsouse
microorganismsinconstructedenvironmentstoserveourownfunctions.

Antibioticsallownaturallyresistantvariantsofmicrobes
withinapopulationtosurviveandreproduce.Source:
MicrosoftImages.

NutrientRecycling.Whenplantsandanimalstakeupnutrients,theyarenotavailabletootherlivingorganisms.
Microbesrecycle
nutrientsinour
environment.

Whentheplantsandanimalsdie,thenutrientsremaininthecarcass.Ifthedeadmaterial,ordetritus,isnotbroken
downbymicrobes,thosenutrientswillneverbecomeavailabletohelpsustainthelifeofotherorganisms.Therearea
finiteamountofnutrientsavailableintheenvironmentandwecannotsimplymakemore.Thenutrientsthataretrapped
indetritusmustbereleasedinorderforlifetocontinue.Itisthemicrobialpopulationoftheenvironmentthatis
responsibleforthisnutrientrecycling.
Health.Wedependonhavingamicrobialpopulation,calledourmicrobiota,forourhealth.Therearenormally10times

Goodbacteriainside
usdestroyinvasive,
harmfulbacteria.

moremicrobialcellson/inahumanbodythanhumancells.Thegoodbacteriathatliveonandinusprotectusfromthe
badinvadersthatmightcomeourway.Withoutthegoodbacteria,thebadonescanslipinandeasilycauseus
problems.Ourowndigestionhasalsoevolvedtousebacteriaforassistance,allowingustogainnutritionfromplant
polysaccharidesthatourownenzymeswillnotdegrade.Thisisoneofthereasonswhytakingantibioticscanleadto
episodesofdiarrheawehavedisruptedournaturalgutbiota.
Food.Microbeshavebeenusedforcenturiestoprovideuswithfood.Breadistheresultofamicrobialfermentationof

Microbesprovidefood
forusthrough
fermentation.

sugarstoproducecarbondioxidethebubblesthatmakebreadrise.Weoweourbeerandwinetosimilarlittleyeast
thatconvertsugarsintoalcoholforourconsumption.Yogurtandcheeseareproducedbybacterialfermentationof
lactose,thesugarinmilk.Microbessuchasphytoplanktonalsoserveasthenutrientsourcethatindirectlyfeedsall
marineanimals.Andmicrobialsymbioseswithplantsallowthemtogrowstrongandincreaseproductivitysometimes
theyareevenessentialforplantsurvival.
Biodegradation.Microorganismsareresponsibleforgettingridthewastegeneratedbyindustryandhouseholds.They

Microbescaneat
wasteandpollution.

detoxifyacidminedrainageandothertoxinsthatwedumpintothesoilandwater.Thenutrientsgainedfromthe
breakdownoftheseproductsthengotofeedplantsoralgae,whichinturnfeedallanimals.
WasteWaterTreatment.Whenweflushthingsdownthedrainorthetoilet,theygotoasepticsystemorwaste

Microbespurifywaste
water.

watertreatmentplantattheendoftheline.Afterprimarymechanicaltreatmentandaerationmicrobesremoveorganic
materialsfromthefilthywatersthatflowintothesesystemsand,eventually,watercansafelybereturnedtotherivers
andstreams.Themethaneproducedduringtreatmentcanevenbeusedtogenerateheatorelectricityforthe
operation!
Biosynthesis.Wehavediscoveredthatmicroorganismsareusefulformakingthingsaswell.Productssuchasxanthan

Microbesarebuilders,
makingproductssuch
asvitaminC.

gum(afoodthickener)areharvestedfromtheirbacterialproducers.MostofourvitaminB12,riboflavin,andvitaminC
areproducedbybacterialfermentation.Approximately70%ofantibioticscurrentlyinusearealsotheproductof
microbialfermentation.

Sourcesofantibioticsintheenvironment
Inspiteofallofthebenefitsofhavingahealthymicrobialpopulation,antibioticsandantibacterialagentsareaddedtothe
environmentatarateofoveramillionpoundsperweek.Thereareseveralroutesofentryofantimicrobialagentsintothe
environment.Studieshaveshownthatintroductionbytheserouteshaschangedtheantibioticsusceptibilityofthemicrobesin
thoseenvironmentsand/orchangedthepredominantmicrobes.
Sewage.Theantibioticsthatwetakeinarenotallprocessedbyourbodies.Someofthemareexpelledaswasteand
windupinourwastewatertreatmentplants.Ofbacteriaisolatedfromsludgeremainingafterwastewatertreatmentat
oneplant,46.4%wereresistanttomultipleantibiotics.Sewagefromhospitalsandpharmaceuticalplantshasbeen
showntocontributetoantibioticresistanceintreatmentplants.Riverscontaminatedwithurbaneffluentandagricultural
runoffhavealsobeenshowntohavegreaterantibioticresistantbacterialpopulationsthanareasupstreamofthe
contaminationsource.Antibioticresistanceinstreamsisalsoindirectlyselectedforbyanincreaseinindustrialwastes
containingheavymetals.

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Actionbioscience|Microbes:WhatTheyDo&HowAntibioticsChangeThem
Medicalwaste.Thedispensingofantibioticsinamedicalfacilityinevitablyleadstowaste.Dischargefromhospitals
hasbeenshowntocauseanincreaseinbacterialpopulationsresistanttocertainantibioticssuchasoxytetracycline.

Microbesare
becomingresistantto
antibioticsdueto
environmental
pollution,overuseof
antibiotics,and
antibacterialagents.

Production.Antibioticsalestotalmorethan$8billionworldwideeachyear.Thatis50millionpoundsproducedeach
year,25millionpoundsofwhichareprescribedforhumanuse.Dischargeofwastewaterfrompharmaceuticalplanthas
beenassociatedwithanincreaseintheprevalenceofsingleandmultipleantibioticresistanceinindicatororganisms.
Householdproducts.Over700antibacterialhouseholdproductshavebeenintroducedinthepastfiveyears.These
includesuchitemsassweatsocks,toothpastes,kitchenplastics,cementandpaints.Themorecommonantibacterial
ingredientsintheseformulationsaretriclosan,quartenaryammoniumcompounds,alcohol,andbleach.Microbes
resistanttoeachofthesecompoundshavebeendocumentedinnatureandinsomehumanpathogens.Theseproducts
windupinthesewageorlandfillafterbeingusedinourhouseholds.
Sprayedoncrops.About300,000poundsofantibioticsareusedinplantproductioneachyear.Theyaresprayedon
highvaluecropssuchasfruittreestopreventbacterialinfections.Thiscanselectforresistantbacteriaonourcrops.
Notallofthesprayremainsonthefruit.Mostoftheantibioticsarewashedintothesoilandeventuallyendupinthe
groundwater.
Animalproduction.Antibioticsarecommonlyaddedatsubtherapeuticlevelstoanimalfeedsasgrowthpromoters.
Theyarealsoaddedtofisherywaters.About24millionpoundsofantibioticsarefedtoanimalseveryyear.Duetothis
practiceantibioticresistanceinfoodshasbecomeahealthconcern.BacteriasuchasdrugresistantSalmonella
typhimurium,EscherichiacoliandEnterococcushaveincreasedclinicallyasanimalantibioticusehasrisen.Itisalso
possiblethatournormalgutmicrobiotahavegainedantibioticresistancefromantibioticexposedfoodanimals.A
populartheoryisthatvancomycinresistantstrainsofthebacteriumEnterococcus(VRE),amajorcauseofpostsurgical
infections,haveariseninEuropeduetotheuseoftheantibioticavoparcinasananimalgrowthpromoter.Atleastone
study,however,showsthatinmincedbeefandpork,VREoccursveryrarely.Theuseofoxytetracyclineinaquaculture
hasbeenshowntocauseaseasonalshiftinbacterialspeciestowardsEnterobacteriaceaeandisassociatedwith
increasedantibioticresistance.

Mechanismsofspreadofantibioticresistance

Antibioticresistance
isencodedinthe
microbesDNA.

Antibioticsdonot,inthemselves,causeresistance.Instead,theyallownaturallyresistantvariantswithinapopulationtosurvive
andreproducewhilethoseindividualswithouttheresistancefactordie.Onceinabacterialpopulation,antibioticresistancecan
spreadrapidly.Evenunrelatedbacteriacangainresistancefromtheirneighborsinaphenomenoncalledhorizontalgene
transfer.ResistancetoantibioticsisencodedinDNA,thegeneticblueprintforlife.BacteriaareabletoexchangeDNA,especially
intheformofplasmids(small,selfreplicatingcirclesofDNA)andpassresistanceveryrapidly.
Conjugation.Bacteriacanfuseandexchangeplasmidsandsometimeschromosomefragments.Increaseinmobilizing
plasmidshasbeenassociatedwithuseofantibioticsinswinehusbandry.Theseplasmidshaveabroadhostrangeand
areabletocrossgenuslinesduringtransfer.
Transfection.Virusescaninfectbacteriaandfungi,passingalonggenesfromoneinfectedorganismtothenext.
Thesegenessometimesencoderesistancefactors.Theuseofantibioticgrowthpromotersinanimalhusbandrymay
increasetheamountoffreephageinintestinesandmaycontributetothespreadofantibioticresistance.
Transformation.Whenabacteriumlysesinitsenvironment,anyotheractivelygrowingbacteriainthatvicinitycan
pickupitsDNA.Thisisanothermechanismofresistancespread,sinceplasmids(includingresistanceorRplasmids)
aremoreeasilyusedbytherecipientbacteriumthanchromosomalmaterial.

Somediseasesareno
longertreatablewith
antibiotics.

Microbialpopulationshavebeenshowntochangeduetoexposuretoantibioticsandantibacterialagents.Weareseeingarisein
antibioticresistanceallaroundtheworld.Somediseasesthatwerepreviouslysusceptibletoavarietyofantibioticsnoware
untreatable.AccordingtotheCenterforDiseaseControl(CDC),approximately70percentofinfectionsthatpeoplegetwhile
hospitalizedarenowresistanttoatleastoneantibiotic.Resistancetoantibioticsisrapidlyoutpacingourabilitytosynthesizenew
drugs.Whileonlyaverysmallproportionofbacteriainourlivescanpotentiallyharmus,wearelosingourarsenaltotreat
theserareinfections.

Curbingspreadofantibioticresistance
Antibioticresistanceisinevitable.However,thereareafewthingsthatwe,asconsumers,candotocontrolthespreadof
antibioticresistance.

Antibioticshaveno
effectonviralailments
butpeoplecontinue
tousethem.

Antibacterialsoapand
otherhousehold
productsdestroy
goodbacteria.

Donotseekantibioticsforthetreatmentofviralinfectionssuchasthecommoncold,sorethroat,bronchitis,or
flu.Antibioticshavenoeffectonviraldiseases.Takingantibioticsimproperlysimplyleadstomoreantibioticsinthe
sewageandabuildupofantibioticresistantbacteriainyourmicrobiota.
Takethefullcourseofantibioticswhentheyareprescribed.Stoppingwhenyoufeelbettermeansthatsome
bacteriainyourbodywereexposedtoonlysmalldosesoftheantibioticandhavesurvived.Theyarenowresistantto
smallamountsoftheantibiotic.Thenexttimeyougetaninfectiontheywillnotbesoeasilykilled.
Avoidunnecessaryantibacterialhouseholdproducts.Weneedthebacteriathatsurroundus,anditispossible
thattryingtokillthemiscausingharm.Byintroducingantibacterialproductsintothelandfillsandsewageweare
ensuringthatonlythemicrobesthatareresistanttotheseproductssurvive.Researchisunderwaytodetermineifwe
areselectingforresistantbacterialpopulationscausingantibacterialagents,likeantibiotics,tolosetheireffectiveness
ordisrupttheeffectivenessofthewastewatertreatmentplantsornutrientcyclinginthesoil.Useantibacterialhand
soapsonlywhendealingwithillandimmunocompromisedindividuals.
Washyourhands.Thebestwaytostopthespreadofanybacterialinfectionisthroughsimplehygienemeasures.
Washinghandsinwarmsoapywaterforatleast20secondsisenoughtoeliminatemostofthepotentialpathogens.
Alsobesuretowashallfruitsandvegetableswellbeforeeatingthem.

Conclusion
Microbesareanessentialpartofalllifeonearth.Theadditionofantibioticsandantibacterialcompoundsischangingthe
microbialpopulationsofthesoil,water,andourownmicrobiota.Recognizingthenumerousinvaluablefunctionsofmicrobes
shoulddecreasethegermophobiaprevalentinWesternsocieties.
2001,AmericanInstituteofBiologicalSciences.Educatorshavepermissiontoreprintarticlesforclassroomuseotherusers,please
contacteditor@actionbioscience.orgforreprintpermission.Seereprintpolicy.

MauraMeadeCallahan,Ph.D.,isaprofessorofbiologyatAlleghenyCollegeinMeadville,PA.Theresheteachesbiology,
microbiology,andantimicrobialagentresistanceinbacteria.SheearnedherPh.D.inplantpathologyatNorthCarolinaState
University.SheisactivelyinvolvedinagraduateresearchethicsprojectoftheAssociationforPracticalandProfessionalEthics
andinvariousaspectsofundergraduatemicrobiologyeducationthroughtheAmericanSocietyforMicrobiology.Sheservesasa
reviewerforseveraljournals,textbooks,andwebsites.
4/09update:UnabletolocateDr.Callahanscurrentinformationonline.

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Actionbioscience|Microbes:WhatTheyDo&HowAntibioticsChangeThem
printerfriendlyformat

Thisreviewedbookaddressestheeconomicsofbattlingantibioticresistanceinbacteria.
Whatsbehindthedangerousspreadofantibioticresistanttuberculosis?
Learnaboutnewwaysresearchersarefightingresistancebycurbingantibioticuseonthefarm.
Thereismoreabouttheimportanceofbacteriainthisbookreview.
Microbesespeciallybacteriaarestoredandstudiedatbiologicalresourcecenterslearnaboutthemhere.

learnmorelinks
Antibioticresistancelinks
EnvironmentLiteracyCouncilprovidesbasicinformationaboutantibioticresistancewithseveralnotablelinkstolearnmoreabouttheproblem.
http://www.enviroliteracy.org/article.php/532.html

FoodandEnvironmentElectronicDigest
FEEDisafreeemailnewsletterthatwillkeepyouinformedaboutfoodproductionandsafetyissues.
http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/feed/feedlatest.html

Microbiologyportal
Microbes.infoisagoodstartingpointforfindinginformationconcerningmicrobiology.
http://www.microbes.info/

Infectiousdiseasesguidance,U.K.
TheHealthProtectionAgency(HPA)isanationalorganizationforEnglandandWalesdedicatedtoprotectingpeopleshealthandreducingtheimpactof
infectiousdiseases,chemicalhazards,poisons,andradiationhazards.
http://www.hpa.org.uk/

FoodAnimalAgriculture
The2004USDAreport,StrategiestoReduceAntimicrobialResistanceinFoodAnimalAgriculture.
http://www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/ceah/cei/taf/emerginganimalhealthissues_files/antiresist.strategy.pdf

Theriseofantibioticresistantinfections
AnarticlebyRickiLewis,Ph.D.intheU.S.FoodandDrugAdministration(USFDA)ConsumerMagazine(1995)reviewingtheproblemofantibiotic
resistanceandthemechanismsbywhichbacteriabecomeresistanttoantibioticsandotherenvironmentalchemicals.
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1370/is_n7_v29/ai_17434481/

Readabook
NaturalAlternativestoAntibioticsbyJohnMcKennaoffersinformationontheherbalremedies,nutritionalsupplements,anddietarychangesthatcan
combatbacterialinfectionswithouttheuseofantibiotics(AveryPublishingGroup,1996).

getinvolvedlinks
UnderstandingEvolution
Youronestopsourceforinformationonevolution.LearnthefactsinEvolution101,browsetheresourcelibrary,readaboutevolutionin
thenews,ordiscoverawealthofmaterialstohelpeducateothersaboutevolutionandrelatedconceptsitsallrighthere!
http://evolution.berkeley.edu

AllianceforthePrudentUseofAntibiotics
dedicatedtopromotingproperantibioticuseandcurbingantibioticresistanceworldwide.Wepromoteglobalpublichealthbyraisingpublicawareness
througheducationandresearchprojectsonproperantibioticuseandantibioticresistance.Getinvolvedoptionsonhomepage.
http://www.tufts.edu/med/apua/

CenterforScienceinthePublicInterestAntibioticResistanceProject
CSPIisanonprofiteducationandadvocacyorganizationthatfocusesonimprovingthesafetyandnutritionalqualityofourfoodsupplyItrepresents
citizensinterestsbeforelegislative,regulatory,andjudicialbodiesanditworkstoensureadvancesinscienceareusedforthepublicgood.
http://www.cspinet.org/ar/ar_livestockuse.html

educatorresources
ActionBioscience.orgoriginallesson
Thislessonhasbeenwrittenbyascienceeducatortospecificallyaccompanytheabovearticle.Itincludesarticlecontentandextensionquestions,as
wellasactivityhandoutsfordifferentgradelevels.
LessonTitle:Microbes:TooSmartforAntibiotics?
Levels:middleschoolundergraduate
Summary:Thislessonfocusesonexaminingwhymicrobesbecomeresistanttoantibiotics,aswellastheirrolesinhumanhealthandthe
environment.Studentscanproducepublicawarenesscampaignsonantibioticuse,createyogurtrecipecards,developacommercial
bioremediationproduct,experimentwithsimulatedgermsandmore!
Download/viewlesson.
(ToopenthelessonsPDFfile,youneedAdobeAcrobatReaderfreesoftware.)

Usefullinksforeducators:extensionactivities
Thefollowinglinkswilltakeyoutomiddlehighschoollevelactivitiesthatwillcomplementsomeoftheactivitiessuggestedintheaboveoriginal
lesson:
YoudBetterWashYourHands
StudentssingYoudbetterwashyourhands,aparodyoftheBeatlessongIwanttoholdyourhand.Clickonsonglyricsfordownload.There
areotherfunsongs,suchasWearethemicrobes(sungtoWearethechampions).
http://foodsafe.ucdavis.edu/
EmergingandReemergingInfectiousDiseases
TheNationalInstituteofHealthoffersthisfreehighschoolcurriculumsupplement(webversion,downloadableCDROMversion,orbymail
delivery).Studentactivitiesincludelabexperimentswithbacteria,accompaniedbyonlinevideosupportforexperiments.(Thefirstlinkbelowtakes
youtothewebversion.Thesecondlinktakesyoutoinfoonotheravailableformats.)
http://scienceeducation.nih.gov/supplements/nih1/diseases/guide/guide_toc.htm
http://scienceeducation.nih.gov/Customers.nsf/highschool.htm
Video:IntimateStrangers:UnseenLifeonEarth
ThisPBSdocumentary,availableforpurchase,issuitedforhighschoolandcollegeclassroomsandprovidesanoverviewofthemicrobialworld.

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http://www.learner.org/resources/resource.html?uid=147
WhyDoesEvolutionMatterNow?
Inthislessonplanforhighschool,studentsinvestigatethegrowingproblemofantibioticresistance.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/educators/lessons/lesson6/act1.html

Usefullinksforstudentresearch
Inadditiontothelinksinthelearnmoresectionabove:
MicrobeZoo
Aninteractivewebsite,wherestudentscanclickonanenvironmenttofindthemicrobesthatlivethere.
http://commtechlab.msu.edu/sites/dlcme/zoo/
E.coliO157:H7
Frequentlyaskedquestionsaboutthisbacteria.
http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/escherichiacoli_g.htm
VirtualMuseumofBacteria
Bacteriaimagesandinformation.ThesitewelcomesstudentstosubmitaselfwrittenwebpageaboutbacteriaforpublicationintheStudentHall
section.
http://www.bacteriamuseum.org/
MicrobeLibrary
Over300highquality,peerreviewedimages,animations,andvideosaboutthemicrobialworldforeducators,primarilyattheundergraduatelevel.
http://www.microbelibrary.org/
BIOREMEDIATIONGLOSSARIES
Twoglossariesofterms.Thesecondlinkalsoincludesphytoremediationterms.
http://www.lbl.gov/ERSP/generalinfo/glossary.html
http://members.tripod.com/~bioremediation/
MOREGLOSSARIES
BacterialNomenclature(namesandabbreviations)
http://www.bacterio.cict.fr/
GlossaryofEnvironment&MicrobiologyTerms(highschoollevel)
http://www.alkenmurray.com/glossarybug.html
LexiconofMicrobiologyTerms/Abbreviations(undergraduatelevel)
http://www.hardydiagnostics.com/microbio_glossary.html

articlereferences
Alekshun,M.N.andS.B.Levy.1999.Themarregulon:multipleresistancetoantibioticsandothertoxicinsults.TrendsMicrobiol7:41013.
Levy,Stuart.1998.Thechallengeofantibioticresistance.ScientificAmerican,Mayissue.
McMurrayL.M.,OethingerM.,LevyS.B.1998.Triclosantargetslipidsynthesis.Nature394:5312.
Meade,M.J.andT.M.Callahan.2000.Uniquemechanismoftriclosanresistanceidentifiedinenvironmentalisolates.Abstractsofthe100thannualmeetingofthe
AmericanSocietyforMicrobiology,LosAngeles,CA.
Meade,M.J.2000.Thehorrorinyourhandsoap:triclosanresistanceinenvironmentalmicrobes.PresentationatSlipperyRockUniversity.
Rook,G.A.W.andJ.L.Stanford.1998.Giveusthisdayourdailygerms.ImmunolToday19:1136.
Russell,A.D.etal.1998.Possiblelinkbetweenbacterialresistanceanduseofantibioticsandbiocides.AntimicrobAgentsChemother,42:2151.

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