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Davies (England’s chief medical officer) has warned of a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” as she issued a call to action urging global leaders to address the growing threat of antibiotic resistance. Davies said that if antibiotics lose their effectiveness it will spell “the end of modern medicine” (Davies: 2017). Davies continued by saying without the drugs used to fight infections, common medical interventions such as caesarean sectionscancer treatments and hip replacements would become incredibly “risky”; and transplant medicine would be a “thing of the past”, she added. Ries (2019), indicated that antibiotic resistance has emerged in the past decade, as one of the greatest public health threats. Antibiotics have been used to prevent and treat bacterial infections since the 1940s when doctors first discovered that powerful drugs could save people’s lives.

Antibiotic resistance

The problem, however, over recent decades, is the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, which resulted in infectious bacteria becoming resistant to these common drugs. Today, researchers have more details on just how severe antibiotic resistance has become and found evidence that we’ve reached a frightening new milestone. New research published in the journal antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy today discovered that resistance to one of the last resort drugs used to treat extremely drug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa can develop a lot more quickly than we originally thought (Ries: 2019).

As previously said, resistance has emerged as one of the greatest threats to public health in recent years. Now, new research shows just how big of a threat it is. A new study found that resistance to commonly used antibiotics has nearly doubled in 20 years. Another found that resistance to antibiotics is developing faster than ever, with one patient becoming resistant in just 22 days (Ries: 2019).

Davies (2017) reiterated that health experts have previously warned that resistance to antimicrobial drugs could cause a bigger threat to mankind than cancer. In recent years, the UK has led a drive to raise global awareness of the threat posed to modern medicine by antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Around 700 000 people around the world die annually due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria. If no action is taken, it has been estimated that drug-resistant infections will kill 10 million people a year by 2050.

How to prevent the antibiotic apocalypse

According to Hovet (2020) antibiotic resistance and an increase of “superbugs” could cause 10 million deaths each year by 2050, unless this mounting global health crisis can be halted. Presently, at least 23 000 Americans die each year as a direct result of antibiotic-resistant microbes, while an unknown number die from related complications. The development of new antibiotics has become one of the most pressing goals of our time, yet it’s not happening quickly enough. The superbugs are winning.

Recent research from the University of Manchester’s school of chemistry has made known the possibility of a new form of antibiotic production which could help in the war against antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The researchers identified the biosynthetic pathway of an antibiotic called malonomycin using CRISPR/Cas9, the revolutionary and sometimes controversial gene-editing tool.

The intention is to use a combination of bioinformatics, in vitro experiments, and CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, researchers at the University of Manchester in collaboration with the University of Cambridge were able to identify the previously unknown biosynthetic pathway of the antibiotic malonomycin. This antibiotic is produced in Streptomyces rimosus paromomycinus and is known to have antiprotozoal and antifungal activity.

“The high-speed increase of antibiotic-resistant infectious agents is one of the foremost global health concerns of the 21st century. Now, using a combination of bioinformatics, [CRISPR/Cas9] gene editing, and in vitro experiments, we have discovered a highly unusual biosynthetic pathway to the antibiotic malonomycin. This could guide the way for a new kind of antibiotic production process,” said Micklefield, leader of the study, and professor of Chemical Biology at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology.

Climate change and air pollution know no borders, and antibiotics resistance respects no boundaries. Bacteria from Africa can make people in America sick. The burning of Indonesian forests can keep Asia gasping for breath.

(Rohini Nilekani)