Watch: The Last Bugs Standing

Screenshot (12)


Calling antibiotics one of the “great disruptors of the modern area” that have the effect of “shock and awe weapons” on our bodies, science writer Ed Yong does something in this video (below) that no one else has: he shows us the effect these “weapons” are having on us. His demonstration is so extraordinary we’d be forgiven for overlooking its true import, hence this brief intro.

At about the 2:50 mark Yong introduces us to antibiotic resistance, the idea that our misuse of antibiotics is breeding a highly resistant population of superbugs, “the hardiest mutants of all.” Nothing new there. But get ready, as Yong shows us some novel work done at the Harvard Medical School. They developed what they call a MEGA-Plate (Microbial Evolution Growth Area-Plate) (above), which is basically a giant petri dish that resembles a football field. We watch E. coli bacteria move across the plate from both ends, converging towards the middle, as they develop ever-stronger resistance to the increasing concentrations of antibiotics. The “end zone,” in the middle of the plate, is an area that has 1,000 times the concentration of antibiotics necessary to kill them – but they don’t die, hence the term “superbug.” Okay, that’s pretty cool because we’re actually watching evolution happen.

But here’s the thing. The point isn’t that this is happening in some giant petri dish at Harvard Med. The point is that this is happening to us, in and on our bodies. It’s happening in hospitals, in our community, across the country; indeed, across the world. It’s also why, for example, infectious disease specialist Brad Spellberg, MD, named his book The Rising Plague; emphasis on “Rising.”

The screenshot, above, is the key point in the video. That’s Yong’s hand literally mapping this “rising plague” of pathogens that culminates with, in his words, “the last bugs standing”: the very ones that make us so sick because  we have so much trouble treating them. Again, the point is that he’s showing us what’s happening outside the lab, across the globe.

The remainder of the video weaves together various important strands of the resistance issue; for example, antibiotics in animal feed, antibacterial chemicals in soaps and gels, and the misuse of antibiotics to treat viral-based illness like the cold and the flu where, Yong says, “using an antibiotic on them would be like using a hammer to fix a leaky faucet.” All told, you’d be hard-pressed to find more important information delivered in such short a time, anywhere in the public sphere.


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