How does antibiotic resistance develop

Antibiotic resistance - small pathogens - great danger

Nowadays, numerous antibiotics are available for the treatment of bacterial infections. They use very different mechanisms to inhibit the growth of bacteria or to kill them. The following applies: The more often bacteria come into contact with a certain antibiotic, the greater the likelihood that they will become resistant to this antibiotic and the drug will lose its effectiveness.

If bacteria develop resistance to different antibiotics, one speaks of multi-resistant germs. These are particularly dangerous. A large number of the known antibiotics can hardly harm you. The result: longer and significantly more severe disease processes that can even be fatal. Multi-resistant bacteria are an increasingly common problem, especially in hospitals. A dangerous multi-resistant hospital germ is, for example, the multi-resistant or methicillin-resistant one Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA for short. You can find out more about resistant hospital germs in the interview with Professor Petra Gastmeier, Director of the Institute for Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin. Read here what possible new treatment approaches there are for resistant hospital germs. Find out here where resistant bacteria can lurk in everyday life.

Why is antibiotic resistance increasing?

One reason for the increase in resistant bacteria is that antibiotics are too often and often unnecessarily prescribed or used, not only in human but also in veterinary medicine. As a result, the genetically very adaptable bacteria are literally trimmed to defend themselves with new resistances against the antibiotics. Experts speak of selection pressure, because resistant bacteria have an evolutionary selection advantage in the age of antibiotics. The bacteria are quite inventive here: They are constantly developing new resistance-mediating genes. These resistance genes contain the genetic information for cellular mechanisms with which bacteria can destroy the effectiveness of antibiotics. In addition, the antibiotics used only kill bacteria that are not resistant. Resistant bacteria, on the other hand, can multiply undisturbed and without competition from other bacteria. It is now known that resistant bacteria can also be transmitted to humans through contact with animals or animal foods. You can read more about multi-resistant bacteria and the influence animal breeding has on their spread here.

Research for Effective Antibiotics

Research into the fight against antibiotic resistance is a funding priority of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). That is why the BMBF supports a broad spectrum: from the basics of the development of resistance and its spread to the development of new, innovative therapies. In addition, in order to maintain the effectiveness of antibiotics for as long as possible, the prevention of infectious diseases and the responsible use of antibiotics are at the center of the research policy strategy.

The BMBF developed the German Antibiotic Resistance Strategy (DART) together with the Federal Ministry of Health and the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture in 2008 and updated and revised it in 2015 (see here). The BMBF contributes to the implementation of this strategy in various funding initiatives - nationally and internationally. At the national level, the German Center for Infection Research, or DZIF for short, makes an important contribution (see here). The goals of the DZIF include developing new strategies against the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and researching drug candidates for new drugs against infectious diseases.

You can find out here which transnational activities the Federal Ministry of Research supports to combat antibiotic resistance.

The global community has recognized the danger posed by antibiotic-resistant germs. The task now is to face this global threat together and with determination. That is why antibiotic resistance is a priority topic of the German G7 presidency in 2015.

How bacteria can defend themselves against antibiotics

A well-known example of resistance-mediating genes that bacteria can use to destroy the effectiveness of antibiotics are “Extended Spectrum Beta-Lactamases”, or ESBL for short. These are special enzymes produced by bacteria that can break down the molecular structure of many antibiotics, such as penicillins. The antibiotics become ineffective. The genetic information for this ESBL-mediated antibiotic resistance is mostly on mobile genetic elements, the plasmids. These can be exchanged between bacteria of one species or between bacteria of different species, which contributes to the rapid spread of ESBL-forming bacteria. Since ESBL-forming pathogens are often multi-resistant, there are only a few effective antibiotics available for successful therapy in the event of an infection.