Antibiotic Crisis: The Bad, the Worse, and the Future by Agata K
Updated: May 12, 2021
In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world witnessed how even the tiniest of entities can drastically affect the global order. However, long before we heard about the SARS-CoV-19 virus, we were already in the midst of an ongoing crisis – the antibiotic crisis. This crisis consists of two main issues. First, antibiotic resistance is on the rise. The microbes bombarded with the same antibiotics for decades have shown that they can adapt and develop resistance to the substances we once thought will make us invincible. Second, we stopped discovering new antibiotics. As of 2018, only 15 new antibiotics have been approved since 2000, which is a small fraction of the 63 antibiotics put to clinical use between 1980 and 2000 (Tamasi, 2018). As a result, the World Health Organization declared antibiotic resistance crisis one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity (WHO, 2019) proving once again that the deadly force can be found in the tiniest of beings.
One may ask why is it so hard to find new antibiotics if the threat is so great? One of the main reasons why antibiotic discovery is so limited concerns microbial diversity. It turns out that microbial diversity present in the soil is not easily replicated in the laboratory. It has been estimated that scientists were able to cultivate only one percent of the bacteria present in the soil (Ling et al., 2015). The vast majority of microbes remain elusive in the cultivation process. Additionally, the one percent of microbes that scientists were able to cultivate in the laboratory has been vastly exhausted when it comes to looking for antimicrobial substances. As a result, the probability of discovery of a novel antibiotic from these known bacteria is extremely low (Nichols et al., 2010).
In the light of all this information, should we lose all the hope and succumb to the gloomy future of microbes ruling the Earth over us? Fortunately, not yet. There are still many scientists out there who refuse to give up on antibiotic research and come up with multiple ways to get a glimpse at the microbial diversity present in the 99% of the microbes we have not been able to cultivate. Additionally, the antibiotic pipelines have included student researchers in their efforts to maximize antibiotic discovery. The Tiny Earth, which I am a part of, is a network of instructors and students across 45 U.S. stated and 15 countries that focuses on student-sourced antibiotic discovery research (Tiny Earth, 2021). Although, the road to discovery and approval of a new antibiotic is long and laborious, in the light of current events I believe it is worth it. We have witnessed that in a span of less than a year a community of scientists devoted to one single goal – the discovery of COVID-19 vaccine – accomplished what was thought to be impossible. Now, we have evidence that global collaboration of scientists can achieve “miracles,” and bring life-saving solutions for humanity. This success proves that there is still a lot to discover out there. Why not put such work together to discover new antibiotics?