Sunday, April 17, 2016

Bacteria rising

Recent research from Michigan State University (1) that demonstrates the rise of multi-drug resistant bacteria due to overuse of antibiotics in animals is troubling. It has long been known that flu originates in farms with multi-species interactions. As mentioned in the article, the swine farms in China are particularly problematic as they allow easy gene transfers among bacteria. This, in conjunction with lack of antibiotics research for decades due to declining commercial economics, could result in a perfect storm. 

Bacteria have been dominant all through the history of the planet. Robust architecture with fast evolution by sheer numbers, led them to largely supersede any other biological life form on earth. For the past several decades, they have been put on the back foot, for the first time, by humans. All they need, however, are sufficient number of trials to develop resistance against any anti-bacterial agent. Data shows that they are well on their way, thanks to a variety of experiments afforded to them by inter-species breeding and the overuse of known agents. 

The economics of this indicates that commercial organizations are unlikely to focus on it till it is too late. If R&D, commercial or publicly funded, is not focused on this developing problem, we may be heading toward a regime that may make Ebola look like a household pet. In a highly connected world of intercontinental travel, it is easy for the single cell organism to hitch a ride to anywhere they would like to go. Thus, local efforts are not sufficient and a true global push is needed to compete against the abundant experience, collected over four billion years.

R&D prioritization at the societal level needs to take into account the downside risk and value of investments. 


(1) http://esciencenews.com/articles/2016/04/12/antibiotic.resistance.genes.increasing