End of an Era

Once two bacteria, one a TB microbe and another an E.Coli were sitting and drinking at a bar.

As they sipped the usual enzyme cocktail which helped them fight the attack on their cell walls and its membranes they got talking. The multi drug resistant strain of TB, also known in its hallowed circles as “Superbug” boasted to his younger E.Coli colleague:

“Dude I hear you can resist only front line antibiotic tetracycline that humans use against us. Learn from me, I have genetically adapted to evade even their last line of antibiotic defense called Carbapanems. You know I am now virtually untreatable by humans. Do you know what this means to them and why are they running scared”.

“No I do not actually if you can enlighten me” the inexperienced one opined “ I am largely familiar with bed times stories which mom used to put us to sleep with. She told us how a human named Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin about 80-90 human years ( or our about 200,000 generations ago) and we got largely neutralized.

Whenever we struck, they were ready with these earlier antibiotics or in later years they ended up developing almost 80 of these feared drugs. Some of these drugs effected our cells, guts, enzyme production or protein synthesis. We really got hammered and had to step on back-foot till we found ways to counter this human onslaught. As you were rightly pointing out I can now be indifferent to 2-3 of their front-line drugs”.

“Boy your mom did not tell you the whole story. Initially we took a beating yes because we did not have the defense to counter this weapon they employed. However remember any enemy, sooner or later, provides you an opening, a weak spot to strike. In case of humans, drunk by their success, they started over prescribing these antibiotics, fed it even to their animals and stopped new research into it as it was not profitable for them. While they were tapering off and partying, we were hard at work.

We were synthesizing new DNA elements called plasmids, adapting our gene expression to develop resistance, exchanging and borrowing codes from our neighbors, devising pumping mechanisms to throw these drugs out of our systems or devising strategies to alter the target hit spot of these drugs. All of our innovations has born rich fruits to make us battle ready.

As humans antibiotic crusade has fallen behind schedule with their available drugs shelf has reduced from 80 to 60 in last 5 years and only 2 new drugs hitting the market in said period, very many of us have raced ahead in terms of our resistance and have acquired the status of superbugs ( that is we are resistant to multiple drugs and some of us are now resistant to every known drug). Even their newly announced 10*20 program, introducing 10 new antibiotics by 2020 is too little too late”

“So sir, what does all of this mean in layman terms. Where are we headed in our survival fight with humans” the younger one stated, clearly awed by the super star status of his companion.

“We are still biding our time but a return to pre –antibiotic days is imminent for humans. You know our ancestors talked of our golden era when our every colony that humans call infection (acquired through a surgery or even a knee grazing) could prove fatal for them. Well that golden era is about to come back. In next 5-7 years the treatments for common infections will start to become longer, costlier, toxic and also regularly fatal for humans.”

“So sir, what do you think will happen in say 20 -25 years from now as our defenses become even more impregnable”.

“In a pessimistic scenario whole human communities will get affected badly though they might find some local treatments against us. In optimistic scenario, my boy: Apocalypse”,

So saying the TB bug got up with a smirk, having finished his drink.

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