December 14, 2008
Antibiotics: Blessing or Curse?
Charles Darwin was one of the most influential scientists in history. His discoveries still resonate to this day, even one hundred and twenty years after his death. Unfortunately some of his discoveries have been overlooked and unheeded by some members of the medical community. My revelation came to me when I read a bottle of hand sanitizer in a bathroom on campus. I caught a small label on the bottom of the bottle; it said that it kills 99.9% of bacteria. Not long after that I had a flashback to my high school biology class; in the class we had a two week discussion on microbes. During the class we discussed how on the average human hand there can be tens of millions of bacteria. It was then that I realized that if even a tenth of a percent of 30 million survive then 300,000 bacteria survive and are immune to the hand sanitizer and can spread unhindered throughout the population. The ability for microbes to exploit their advantage over other microbes is better expressed in Darwin’s “The Origin of Species”.
“Owing the this struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring. The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving, for, of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born” (Applemann 108)
What this means in layman’s terms is that if a certain bacteria, or virus, or any other organism has an advantage over others in its own species then it will have the upper hand and will then will have a better chance to procreate. For example if the outer coating of a cell wall of a bacterium is thicker or has some other advantage that makes it resistant to antibiotics or hand sanitizer than it will be more successful in procreation; and will therefore be able to spread farther and for longer without being killed. Eventually bacteria, which reproduce far faster than us, will become far more resistant to our treatment methods and our strongest drugs like penicillin and other antibiotics may become less and less affective. It is only a matter of time before our methods become more obsolete and we will have to search for new options or face a new health crisis in the form of mass bacterial infections resulting in fatalities. The imbedded video show some of the first signs of this resounding possibility.
In the video Russian prisoners have started to contract an old disease, Tuberculosis, which has evolved in to a new more potent and more deadly strain. The cause of this is a direct result of poor prison conditions and even worse health care in the prisons. In the video they discuss how they have developed a new drug that could eliminate the new strain, however watching this forces me to ask the question. How long will it take for the disease to develop a resistance to this new drug and become just as deadly as it was before the invention of antibiotics.
Appleman, Philip. Darwin. 3rd. New York: Norton, 2001.
Evolution Ep4: The Evolutionary Arms Race. April 27, 2007. December 14, 2008.