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Antibiotic defences against diseases under threat

Pig The world may be about to enter a "post-antibiotic era”. Scientists have found that some bacteria have become resistant to certain drugs that are used when all other treatments have failed: the only antibiotics that are still fully effective. After testing pigs in an intensive pig farm near Shanghai, China, scientists discovered that a strain of E. coli bacteria could no longer be killed by the drug colistin, probably because it has been overused as a treatment for livestock. Doctors fear that common infections, such as tuberculosis or pneumonia, will once again become deadly—just like they were in the Middle Ages.



E. coli bacteria

Antibiotics

The Chinese scientists identified a new gene mutation (permanent change in the chemical make-up), called the MCR-1 gene, that protected bacteria from being killed by colistin. This mutation has spread to a range of different bacteria, including E. coli, and scientists are concerned that if MCR-1 became global, all antibiotics would cease to be effective. Bacterial resistance to colistin has been found before, but the difference this time is that the mutation can be very easily passed from one strain of bacteria to another.

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