Antibiotic Resistance is Old News

I just read a short review paper by Spellberg et al. (2013) that gave me a new perspective on antibiotic resistance.  They pointed out that antibiotics are not a “new” thing in evolutionary/geological time.  Antbiotics have been used by bacteria during ‘ecological warfare’ for ages!  In fact, they cite a cool PLoS ONE paper from Bhuller et al. (2013) that found that bacteria from a cave that had been isolated for more than 4 MILLION YEARS could resist a variety of antibiotics that humans currently use.  Spellberg et al. (2013) therefore suggested that there are no “new” antibiotic targets to be found – that is, any biochemical target that we might think of has probably already been targeted by an antibiotic, and thus resistance mechanisms related to that target probably already exist somewhere in the world.  Interesting!  And terrifying! 

I make a lovely cartoon lab bench, if I do say so myself.


Spellberg, B., J.G. Bartlett, and D.N. Gilbert.  2013.  The future of antibiotics and resistance. The New England Journal of Medicine 368(4): 299-302.  (Open access link!)

Bhullar, K., N. Waglechner, A. Pawlowski, K. Koteva, E.D. Banks, M.D. Johnston, H.A. Barton, and G.D. Wright.  2012. Antibiotic resistance is prevalent in an isolated cave microbiome.  PLoS ONE 7(4): e34953.  (Open access link!)

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