On Earth, unicellular organisms inhabit everything, and one such class of unicellular organisms is bacteria. These organisms share symbiotic relationships with humans but also cause harm in the form of bacterial infections. People treat bacterial infections using medicines known as antibiotics, which kill foreign bacteria. Although antibiotics may seem to be a boon, they also have caused problems with their overuse medically and agriculturally. The biggest problem associated with the overuse of antibiotics is that bacteria are evolving to become resistant to them.
In the early 1900s, Alexander Flemming accidentally discovered the first antibiotic, penicillin. Before this, bacterial infections were deadly, but penicillin quickly became the typical treatment for all infections, including viral ones that cannot be treated by antibiotics. Humanity’s inept overuse and misuse of penicillin gave bacteria a chance to develop resistance to it, a problem Flemming predicted in his Nobel Prize lecture. As a result, researchers were pressured to develop different antibiotics able to treat multiple bacteria or a select few.
Another factor contributing to antibiotic resistance is the use of antibiotics in agriculture. A discovery in the 1950s that subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics, like penicillin, promote the growth of food livestock led to the widespread use of antibiotics in agriculture. The antibiotics used for this process are antimicrobial growth promotants (AGPs). Microbiologists and infectious disease experts discovered the negative effect of AGPs in a study that showed resistant bacteria in the intestinal floras of workers and animals on farms where AGPs are used.
Pharmaceutical companies are working to fight antibiotic resistance by developing new antibiotics, but it has become increasingly difficult to do so. Antibiotic development is expensive, time-consuming, resource-heavy, and overall unprofitable. The developmental process has caused many pharmaceutical companies to either go bankrupt or transition to other fields. With companies leaving the antibiotic industry, the effort to combat drug-resistant bacteria is weakening and leaving humans vulnerable to dangerous infections.
Currently, the best ways to slow this growing problem include informing the populace of this problem, limiting the unnecessary use of antibiotics, and finding other alternatives to AGPs. However, the growing rate of antibiotic resistance is cause for alarm, and experts warn that we may return to a pre-penicillin world in which fighting infection becomes impossible.