Microbial diversity refers to the vast number of microorganisms that exist everywhere on our planet and inside of us. It’s important that we study microbial diversity because it holds the potential to discover new antibiotics against bacteria referred to as ESKAPE pathogens and other potentially deadly bacteria. ESKAPE pathogens are species of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that pose a threat to human health. One example of a pathogen that is as antibiotic-resistant as the ESKAPE pathogens is Clostridium difficile.
Although not an ESKAPE pathogen itself C. difficile is just as dangerous. C.difficle infects the G.I tract after the natural gut flora has been disturbed. The natural gut flora is a layer of beneficial bacteria that protects our gut cells from becoming infected by pathogenic species such as C.difficle. Unfortunately, treating C.difficile infections with antibiotics is not effective since the antibiotics most often kill the healthy layer of bacteria making the gut cells suspectable to infection. C.difficile cells can release spores when they are under stressful conditions such as an environment with antibiotics present. The spores are antibiotic-resistant and later hatch into C.difficle cells that infect the now vulnerable GI tract. Symptoms of a severe C.difficile infection include watery diarrhea 10 to 15 times a day, abdominal cramping and pain, severe rapid heart rate, fever, blood or pus in the stool, nausea, dehydration, loss of appetite, weight loss, swollen abdomen, kidney failure, and increased white blood cell count. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), C.difficile is responsible for an estimated 12,800 deaths every year.
By studying microbial diversity, we are continuing the search for new antibiotics. Most antibiotics used today are derived from bacteria or fungi. By studying microorganisms, we have the potential to discover new forms of antibiotics that may prove effective against the ESAKPE pathogens. For these reasons, it is important that we develop an understanding of microbial diversity so that we can protect the bacteria that keep us healthy and develop treatments for infections that can become deadly.