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Antibiotic resistance – gaining resistance is just the start

Posted on 27 July 2017

Scientists have discovered bacteria are able to “fine-tune” their resistance to antibiotics – raising the possibility of some superbugs being resistant to drugs which they have never even been in contact with.

First author Michael Bottery, from the University of York’s Department of Biology, said: “Gaining resistance plasmids is just the start of the bacteria’s journey to become resistant; the marriage between plasmid and bacteria is a complex one, involving both compromise and changes in behaviour.

“It is a relationship we need to unpick further in order to best preserve the use of the antibiotics we have for use in both critical and routine medical procedures.

“The experiment has shown that if you stop giving antibiotics, resistance won’t go away. If you keep using the same antibiotics the bacteria will just get better and better by fine-tuning their resistance.

“And we have also shown if you give the same antibiotic over and over again it could also become resistant to completely different antibiotics which they have never seen before.”


Dr Jamie Wood, Senior Lecturer in Biological Modelling at York added:  “The hosts have taken advantage of the plasmid resistance to evolve their own resistance and become co-dependent on each other.

“What we are really showing here is the relationship between the bacteria and these plasmids is a really complicated situation and we might be able to find better ways of managing it.

“Antibiotic resistance is a huge global threat  -  the UN has put it as equal threat as climate change.

“We need to gain this kind of basic scientific understanding of how bacteria become resistant, but also how they maintain resistance and how resistance changes over time.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, was funded by the Wellcome Trust.

See the full University Press Release