How bacteria adapt, survive and resist antibiotics is not completely known. Some new research spreads some light on the process.
Antibiotic resistance is due to a bacterium’s ability to adapt and to change its biochemistry, allowing it to resist the pharmaceuticals that are intended to kill them. The mechanism by which bacteria do this is not fully known, and different types of disease causing microbes adapt in different ways.
The World Health Organization notes that while antibiotics have dramatically reduced infections in the past seventy years, their widespread and often indiscriminate use has led to the natural selection of drug-resistant microbes.
In relation to one pathogen, pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumonia), scientists based at the University of Buffalo have come up with an answer. The diseases caused by pneumococcus include septicaemia, pneumonia and meningitis.
From the research briefing, the scientists found that pneumococcus resistance is due to the transfer of DNA between bacterial which exist in jelly-like states (called biofilms) and that this takes place in the area just behind the nose (the nasopharynx).
From experiments in mice, the researchers discovered that the genetic exchange of antibiotic resistance occurs about 10 million times more effectively in the nose compared with other parts of the body. Previous research had focused on the blood as the main area where resistance develops.
The implication of the research is that it could lead to a new range of drugs targeted at the nose.
The research was published in the journal mBio and titled ‘Levels of Genetic Recombination during Nasopharyngeal Carriage and Biofilm Formation in Streptococcus pneumoniae’.