End of Golden Age of Antibiotics?

End of Golden Age of Antibiotics?End of Golden Age of Antibiotics?

Scientists in China are raising the alarm after detecting a dangerous antibiotic resistance gene in many samples taken from multiple sources.

The gene, known as MCR-1, gives an organism resistance to a powerful antibiotic called colistin, which is usually what doctors administer when a bacterial infection is resistant to other medications. Researchers worry this could be the end of the golden age of antibiotics.

Colistin works by disrupting a bacterial cell’s membrane, but it is also damaging to the kidneys. It was developed decades ago, but fell out of favor due to the toxicity. The increase in bacterial resistance brought it back as a last-resort antibiotic, and now even this harsh medication could be on the way out.

The report published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases says that a fifth of livestock animals, 15% of raw meat samples, and 16 human patients all tested positive for bacteria with the new colistin-resistant gene, reported.

Researchers found that E. coli carried the gene and were able to transfer it to other E. coli cells. This is an important distinction with MCR-1. Colistin resistance has appeared before, but this time it has been found on a plasmid — a loop of DNA in bacteria that is easily transferred between cells. This makes it possible that MCR-1 will spread and eventually combine with other resistant genes to create a superbug.

“We’ve lived in a world with effective treatments of infectious disease for so long that it can be hard to imagine what it would be like without them,” researchers say.

 A common infection could turn deadly, common surgeries could become risky, and cancer therapy could become more dangerous. Scientists are constantly examining microorganisms to look for new molecules that could be adapted for use in fighting disease. Some promising drugs are on the horizon, but there’s no silver bullet.