Here is the full text of Dianne Fair’s “The Fight Against Microorganisms”.
What if you or a loved one were diagnosed with an infectious disease: strep throat, an ear infection, bacterial pneumonia, tuberculosis, or a sexually transmitted disease?
Now imagine that there are no drugs that will work in effecting a cure for your infection. This is pretty scary. This is happening right now.
There are people dying, just like they used to before 1928, when penicillin was discovered.
Are we about to fall into the edge of the volcano? That would not be so good.
What I would like to propose today is that we need to encourage young and old scientists to explore new opportunities and new therapies. Not just antibiotics.
What else do we have? This is one of my heroes, a Scottish microbiologist who became Sir Alexander Fleming. He discovered penicillin in 1928, and he was worried about antibiotic resistance, too. Very, very concerned.
Antibiotics? Well, what are they?
Think of them as tiny chemical weapons that are produced by bacteria and fungi, so that they can kill off competitors in a nutrient-limited environment. These genes for antibiotics have been around for 4 million years, long before we humans needed Z-Paks. So this is not a new thing.
Antibiotic resistance can be easily detected, and antibiotic resistance is another weapon. Do you remember Spy vs Spy, if you’re old enough? So it’s an escalation of weapons. The antibiotic producers, that’s one weapon. The antibiotic resistance is another weapon.
Antibiotic resistance is one of those things that my students – and there’s two of them – I told you I was going to use the picture. You can detect antibiotic resistance by growing plate cultures of bacteria. On the left you have E. coli; on the right you have Staph aureus. And those little paper discs are treated with antibiotics like penicillin, tetracycline, Vancomycin, you guys did this, too. This is not new stuff. They did great, they did great by the way.