Watch: How do bacteria resist antibiotics?

13 Jan 2015
Written by
Longitude team

Antibiotic Resistance is increasingly becoming a problem for healthcare professionals and the ability to easily cure infections is being lost. This could have huge repercussions for all of us, around the world, and we could see simple operations, injuries and secondary infections causing serious illness, even death. 

The Longitude Prize recently opened to the world, encouraging innovation from anyone anywhere to help tackle this problem. This global problem needs a transformational solution, a point of care test that can be used anywhere in the world to help conserve antibiotics for as many people as possible. 

The relationship between bacteria and antibiotics is a complex area. If we use the wrong antibiotics or antibiotics that are too broad spectrum for an infection then resistant bacteria become more prevalent, which means that this infection and subsequent infections will be harder to treat. Bacteria are also often able to share resistance mechanisms between each other, as genetic elements in bacteria which enable them to escape antibiotics are shared horizontally with other bacteria. The challenge is to better target antibiotics so we’re killing the bacteria that are actually causing disease while inflicting minimal harm on the bacteria that we rely on for our survival.  

What methods do Bacteria use to resist antibiotics?

There are a few different methods that bacteria use to actively resist antibiotics. These natural defences are what cause the problem when treating patients for infections. If a patient is infected with bacteria that have these defences, then antibiotics are likely to be less effective because the bacteria have now become resistant to antibiotics. Here are three of the most common ways bacteria counter their antibiotic attackers:

Efflux Pump

This is a pump in the wall of the bacteria cell that simply ejects the antibiotics out of the cell, meaning that the antibiotics can’t kill the bacteria.

Neutralisation

Enzymes in the bacteria breakdown the antibiotic compounds so they don’t work properly to kill the bacteria.

Modification

Rather than destroy or breakdown the antibiotics, this method sees enzymes in the bacteria cell attach to the antibiotics to change their structure and make them ineffective against the bacteria.

What can we do?

Bacteria are constantly evolving and we can never stop bacteria from resisting antibiotics. The aim for the Longitude Prize is to produce a diagnostic to help us all use fewer antibiotics and slow down the rate at which bacteria evolve.

We’re calling on people from all areas of innovation and from across the world to take part in the Longitude Prize and to come up with a solution to this problem. If resistance is slowed, antibiotics will have a fighting chance.