Modern medicine is a primary reason why life expectancy is at its highest point in the history of humankind. However, we haven’t always made the most beneficial choices when it comes to applying medicine – resulting in the antibiotic resistance crisis we currently face.
If you have a natural fear of going to the hospital, you’re not alone. Even though hospitals are the place most of us go to find a cure for our ailments, they are generally feared by most patients. This apprehension is founded in large part due to the great number of harmful bacteria found in medical facilities. According to Dr. Cliff McDonald at the Center for Disease Control, ” to die from a healthcare associated infection is probably more likely than dying in a car accident.”
One important reason why this is so is the fact that many infections have become resistant to many, if not all, of the antibiotics we currently use. This dire situation resulted from a mismanagement of antibiotics.
But, what role do antibiotics play in eradicating infections in the first place? – and why have they become ineffective?
To our collective delight, however, a new frontier in the science of antibiotics is in the works; Found in some of the most remote places on earth and from the oldest creature that has ever lived – the sea sponge.
OOPS! Did I Do That?
The first antibiotic was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Flemming – it was named penicillin. This historical discovery was in fact accidental. Dr. Flemming left an unattended petri dish with colonies of Staphylococcus aureus. This bacterium is commonly found in the hair, skin and also the noses of people and animals; the amount of the bacteria is higher when the person has an infection of the nose, eyes, skin or throat (Foodsafety.gov).
Once Flemming closely examined the bacteria he found that a type of mold called Penicillium notatum had invaded the petri dish. The history changing discovery showed that the mold was preventing the bacteria from growing normally – it had essentially stopped it in its tracks.
It took a decade, however, for the antibiotic to become available to the public – once it did it would revolutionize medicine for good.
If you’ve ever wondered how antibiotics work, then you are inquiring into one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Antibodies have the amazing ability to seek out invading bacteria while leaving your own cells unaffected. The reason for this selectivity is the fact that our own cells are significantly different from bacteria.
For one thing, human cell (as well as animal cells) do not have a cell wall, such as bacteria do. The antibiotic Penicillin specifically targets the cell wall of the bacteria and thus prevents it from forming.
Another important difference between our cells and bacteria has to do with the cell membrane. Some antibodies work to dissolve the bacteria’s cell membrane.
The cell’s apparatus responsible for building proteins and copying DNA is also different between the two. Some antibodies target these machinery in bacteria, but not in our own cells (Learn. Genetics).
This ingenious selectivity works great when it comes to keeping our own cells from being affected. However, an antibody can affect the good bacteria that we all have within us. I’m sure you’ve heard of the bacteria found within our digestive system; these are very important as they make it possible for us to digest what we eat.
If an antibiotic happens to target your good bacteria, your health can be seriously compromised. This can happen as a result of taking antibiotics when they are not needed. So make sure that you really need a dose of antibiotics – your doctor’s advice is very important to follow.
Handle With Care
Whenever you take an antibiotic, it is not capable of destroying all the bacteria that’s making you sick. The bacteria that survive will mutate; meaning, they will alter their genetic makeup in order to become resistant to the drug (The Washington Post). Another threat posed by antibiotics is that they also kill the good bacteria in your body. This creates a void where the harmful bacteria can further spread along and its resistance.
The antibiotic resistance crisis is made possible by the mismanagement of antibiotics. A common mistake is prescribing them for the wrong ailment. For example, antibiotics are useless against the flu, which is caused by a virus and not bacteria.
Also, not following your doctor’s specific orders (by taking too much medicine for example) will also cause resistance. Even if you mean well, sharing your leftover antibiotic medication with someone can also give bacteria an opportunity to mutate and become less vulnerable to the medicine. If someone you care about is sick, the best thing is to have her see a doctor and get her own prescription; that way we can better control the bacteria that are making us sick.
I’m certain you know of the dangers of antibiotics in our poultry. Thankfully, many in the industry have made it common practice to avoid supplementing their poultry with antibiotics. Before this change livestock were given antibiotics in order to prevent disease and/or speed up and enhance growth.
Similar to people, giving antibiotics to animals when they are not needed to fight infection will also create bacteria that is able to resist the medicine in the future.
Thankfully, we are becoming more aware of the risks inherent in living in a civilized world. We have to continue to be conscious of the fact that many of the marvels of science – like antibiotics – also have the potential of causing serious harm if not used with care.
We Need You Baby
Unfortunately, our current antibiotics are becoming less effective against many types of bacteria. There’s an urgent need to develop new medicines to treat diseases that are posing a real threat to humanity (PhysOrg). There is some light at the end of the tunnel, however.
Researchers at Florida Atlantic University are hopeful that sea sponges may offer a solution. For thirty years now they have been collecting samples from deep in the ocean. I am referring to the deep waters off the eastern coast of the United States, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the coast of Europe, as well as Africa.
What the researchers are really after are the microbes that live within the sea sponge. By making powerful toxins, they help the sea sponge ward off invaders – these potent chemical cocktails are meant to repel would other intrusive creatures – even other sponges. Fortunately, a good number of these microbes can be grown in the laboratory.
The sea sponges collected have provided around 19,000 different types of microbes. Out of these 1,000 are strains of actinobacteria, which is one of the most abundant microbial groups used to produce natural products. One type of these bacteria, the actinomycetes, are responsible for producing more than half of the antibiotics used today.
Investigators took 50 of these actinobacteria and tested their metabolites against some of the deadliest bacterial pathogens around. These pathogens are commonly found in healthcare facilities and are considered to be some of the greatest threats to human health.
C. difficile, which is responsible for a life threatening diarrhea that is implicated for 453,000 cases and 29,000 fatalities just in the United States.
The actinobacteria obtained from the sponges were shown to be effective when combating the deadly bacterial pathogens (Sun Sentinel). In particular, the scientists were able to demonstrate one of the sponges chemical defenses to be more powerful than vancomycin – a medicine which is given intravenously to fight C.diff. Infection.
There seems to be no end to the vast benefits sea sponges offer humankind and the world at large. Without question, they are a tremendously important part of the foundation of the ocean’s web of life. As if that was not enough, these amazing creatures continue improving the quality of our live
In 1923, an accidental discovery changed medicine for ever. The discovery of Penicillin is by far one of the greatest achievements of humankind. This antibiotic will save people from deadly infections throughout the world. However, this miracle cure came with some serious risks.
The wonder of antibiotics is that they can selectively target what if fact needs to be eradicated. They leave our own cells alone while targeting the harmful bacteria. Unfortunately, they will target our own healthy bacteria as well.
Science has often showed the potential to become a double edge sword. If used carelessly, it can make a dire situation even worse. Antibiotics are a great example of this; they have revolutionize medicine and saved countless lives. However, their effectiveness is dwindling due to the misuse. Such as when patients, push their doctors to prescribe them antibiotics at a time when they’re not needed – like when they have the flu, which is caused by a virus and not a bacterium. In other words, this crisis is completely avoidable if people dedicate themselves to use antibiotics with care.
Renewed hope for this situation is found in the deep waters of some of our oceans. There, you’ll find the resilient sea sponge. This oldest of all animals has survived for over 600 million years for a reason. What they have used for hundreds of eons can now help humanity. I’m talking about the powerful chemical defenses they use to keep invaders at bay.
These powerful toxins have been shown to be effective against bacteria that have become resistant to the antibiotics we currently use – at times they are even more effective.
This is yet another important reason why we must protect the sea sponges and our oceans from the harmful impacts of our wrong choices. Nature continually reminds us how important it is to our lives. Not only it sustains us, but it often makes our lives much better.
Sea sponges were here long before us, they have much to teach us. The question is, are we ready to learn?
How do you feel about the use and misuse of antibiotics? What do you think of the potential role sea sponges can play in tackling medical crisis we face? How can we make sure people don’t misuse antibiotics? Please leave your comment below.
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