The problem of antibiotic resistance has been slowly but steadily moving into the limelight. World leaders have talked about it at the United Nations General Assembly, and the UN has even declared it a “crisis,” but the resources and methods currently used to combat it are proving inadequate. However, a newly proposed tracking protocol may offer hope for battling this growing threat.
Scientists from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and La Trobe University have proposed taking a wholly difference approach to how we define and track antibiotic-resistant pathogens. Instead of tracking antibiotic resistance by counting the number of pathogens that have developed said resistance like we currently do, these scientists propose we start tracking the resistance genes that give the pathogens their deadly boost.
Shifting from tracking resistant pathogens to resistant genes doesn’t sound so hard, but it’s actually fairly complicated. Microbes are capable of something called horizontal gene transfer, which allows them to transfer their genes between different species of microbes, including those that don’t affect us. This means that the new system of tracking would require us to not just count the number of infections with resistant pathogens, but also test our sewage, hospitals, and general environment to figure out what kinds of resistant genes they host.
Once we do that, scientists will have a better understanding of which resistances thrive in particular locales, which will give doctors a lot of valuable information about their enemy. If they know which resistances are present in their area, they know which antibiotics to prescribe and which ones to “rest” until a later date.
Not only would this new system of tracking for antibiotic resistance allow doctors to provide their patients with the most effective treatment, it would also ensure they don’t blindly give out stronger antibiotics than necessary. Limiting the microbes’ exposure to these drugs means they will have less of a chance to develop stronger resistances.
If we don’t take action, antibiotic resistance is expected to cause an estimated 300 million preventable deaths and a cumulative loss of $100 trillion USD by 2050. We need to start taking this threat seriously as the devastation it could cause is on par with climate change, and like climate change, better tracking and defining of the problem will give us a better shot at stopping it.