A post-antibiotic world- The Future

We’ve learnt what antibiotic resistance is, why it’s an issue and what we can do about it (check those out if you haven’t already). And that leaves one more exciting field, the future of antibiotics and anti-bacterial mechanisms (totally nano-drills everybody … keep reading!).

We’ve had antibiotics since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1929 by accident. Today we have 7 main classes of antibiotics with over 100 seperate drugs and they’re rapidly ceasing to work effectively, costing over $20 billion in annual healthcare costs. But what are we researching today to combat superbugs?


More antibiotics

These come in a couple forms: slightly altering existing drugs, developing new ones or “re-discovering” old ones.

  1. Altering existing drugs: This is probably the easiest method of getting more antibiotics. It’s really just slightly modifying the drug and hoping that it may make some more of a difference. Unfortunately, because its mechanism of action is similar to that of the original antibiotic, these can be far less effective. However, they’re widely produced because it’s far easier to modify something existing than create something new. In fact, of the 167 antibiotics under development in 2008, only 15 were new.
  2. Developing new ones: It’s harder and costs a lot more to make something new- up to a whopping $900 million per drug developed. However, in a war against bacteria, we’re going to need better superweapons so beginning development now is essential as it can take up to 25 years for an antibiotic to get through all testing and out to the market.
  3. “Re-discovering” old drugs: Back in the early days of antibiotics, many, many antibiotics were originally worked on; however, some looked like they’d take way too much time, money and effort to be feasible, so they were shelved away and forgotten about. Today, we’re in a war to come out the front first and these antibiotics that were previously not an option are now a central area of research. Additionally, with scientific advances and more practice since the 1950s, we are also more able to develop these faster and more cost-effectively than previously.



Viruses that target bacteria are generally called bacteriophages. They’ve been around in the natural world as bacteria predators for as long as both have existed and target specific bacteria, as compared to a broad-spectrum antibiotic. So that avoids destroying your gut flora as well! So what if we use them to kill nasty bacteria?

It’s been a major area of research and they’ve been used to combat infection for a number of years now.

Their mechanism of action generally results in lysing the cell (causing it to burst). That’s great because the bacteria is dead, except it can result in toxin release as well.

Luckily, more research is being performed, engineering bacteriophages to work even better, killing bacteria without them bursting. What’s more, when these bacteriophages are used in conjunction with general antibiotics, it can increase their effectiveness! And they’re still super-specific and a great technique for combating antibiotic resistance bacteria.


Genetic Technologies

Fancily named, peptide-conjugated phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomer (we can just call it PPMO), is actually just a synthetic form of DNA or RNA that can “turn off” specific genes inside bacteria. So if you turned off some genes that code for proteins involved in reproduction, then you’ve destroyed the bacteria’s only mechanism of spreading.

And the best part?

Bacteria can’t become resistant to them in the way that they can become resistant to antibiotics. So if these work out well, we’ve got another great solution.

But you’re wondering why we don’t already use them. Most simply, they’re still in experimental development stages and are overly toxic when used in humans. But perhaps we’ll see them on the market once we overcome such challenges.


And the best for last- Nanomachines!

I like nano-technology. It’s really cool and miniature so that they can travel through your body and do stuff.

What’s particularly fascinating and wonderful is that a new type that’s being developed is a nano-drill that can quite literally drill into a bacterium and lyse it (remember that means to explode it).

Another nano-material developed based on dragonfly wings also kills bacteria that come into contact with it. Its developers hope that it can be applied in hospitals and other medical facilities where it is essential to maintain uncontaminated surfaces.



So to end this series on antibiotic resistance, I hope this gives a little hope! While many of these technologies are still in development stage, we may see significant advances before superbugs truly take over the world. And let’s hope together that the bacteria aren’t smart enough to outwit these new technologies any time soon.


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