Tuesday, October 3, 2023

African elephants and lessons for antibiotic resistance

If you are prescribed a course of antibiotics, always make sure you complete it even if the symptoms subside earlier.

In a tragic development, researchers of African wildlife are noticing that elephants are evolving to lose their tusks. With rampant poaching, elephants having a rare genetic ‘tuskless’ trait have a better chance of surviving and passing on their genes to the next generation.

Evolution is said to work over hundreds of generations. However, when it involves rapid annihilation of a particular trait, the species grow very quickly with individuals having an opposite trait.

Darwin did not say “survival of the strongest”; he said “survival of the fittest”. So any trait that can survive a hostile environment becomes dominant in that species.

Antibiotics are meant to kill microbes of a particular type. However, within the microbial population, there will be bacteria with slightly hardier genes who don’t die as quickly as their weaker brethren. After some of the microbes are killed, the symptoms of infection might subside. In such cases, if one stops taking the antibiotic, the remaining bacterial population grows back with the more resistant gene. If one does this multiple times, the remaining bacterial population becomes resistant to that antibiotic.

The lesson from African elephants is it does not take hundreds of generations for evolution to work if it involves culling of a particular trait. Bacterial resistance can develop within a short span, unless one completes the full course of prescribed antibiotics.

Here is my short video on this subject.

To read more

First published on: 30th November 2021
Image credit: Ed Peeters on Pexels


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