Bacteria Use Brainlike Bursts of Electricity to Communicate


With electrical signals, cells can organize themselves into complex societies and negotiate with other colonies.
 

Bacteria have an unfortunate — and inaccurate — public image as isolated cells twiddling about on microscope slides. The more that scientists learn about bacteria, however, the more they see that this hermitlike reputation is deeply misleading, like trying to understand human behavior without referring to cities, laws or speech. “People were treating bacteria as … solitary organisms that live by themselves,” said Gürol Süel, a biophysicist at the University of California, San Diego. “In fact, most bacteria in nature appear to reside in very dense communities.”

The preferred form of community for bacteria seems to be the biofilm. On teeth, on pipes, on rocks and in the ocean, microbes glom together by the billions and build sticky organic superstructures around themselves. In these films, bacteria can divide labor: Exterior cells may fend off threats, while interior cells produce food. And like humans, who have succeeded in large part by cooperating with each other, bacteria thrive in communities. Antibiotics that easily dispatch free-swimming cells often prove useless against the same types of cells when they’ve hunkered down in a film.

As in all communities, cohabiting bacteria need ways to exchange messages. Biologists have known for decades that bacteria can use chemical cues to coordinate their behavior. The best-known example, elucidated by Bonnie Bassler of Princeton University and others, is quorum sensing, a process by which bacteria extrude signaling molecules until a high enough concentration triggers cells to form a biofilm or initiate some other collective behavior.

But Süel and other scientists are now finding that bacteria in biofilms can also talk to one another electrically. Biofilms appear to use electrically charged particles to organize and synchronize activities across large expanses. This electrical exchange has proved so powerful that biofilms even use it to recruit new bacteria from their surroundings, and to negotiate with neighboring biofilms for their mutual well-being.

“I think these are arguably the most important developments in microbiology in the last couple years,” said Ned Wingreen, a biophysicist who researches quorum sensing at Princeton. “We’re learning about an entirely new mode of communication.”

Biofilms were already a hot topic when Süel started focusing on them as a young professor recruited to San Diego in 2012. But much about them was still mysterious, including how individual bacteria give up their freedom and settle into large, stationary societies. To gain insight, Süel and his colleagues grew biofilms of Bacillus subtilis, a commonly studied rod-shaped bacterium, and observed them for hours with sophisticated microscopes. In time-lapse movies, they saw biofilms expand outward until cells in the interior consumed the available reserves of the amino acid glutamate, which the bacteria use as a nitrogen source. Then the biofilms would stop expanding until the glutamate was replenished. Süel and his colleagues became curious about how the inner bacteria were telling the outer cells when to divide and when to chill.

Quorum sensing was the obvious suspect. But Süel, who was trained in physics, suspected that something more than the diffusion of chemical messengers was at work in his Bacillus colonies. He focused on ion channels — specialized molecules that nestle into cells’ outer membranes and ferry electrically charged particles in and out. Ion channels are probably most famous for their role in nerve cells, or neurons. Most of the time, neurons pump out sodium ions, which carry a single positive charge, and let in a different number of potassium ions, also with single positive charges. The resulting charge imbalance acts like water piling up behind a dam. When an electrical impulse jolts a neuron’s membrane, specialized channels open to allow the concentrated ions to flood in and out, essentially opening the dam’s floodgates. This exchange propagates along the neuron, creating the electrical “action potentials” that carry information in the brain.

Süel knew that bacteria also pump ions across their membranes, and several recent papers had reported spikes of electrical activity in bacteria that at least loosely resembled those found in the brain. Could bacteria also be using the action-potential mechanism to transmit electrical signals? he wondered.

He and his colleagues treated biofilms in their lab with fluorescent markers that are activated by potassium and sodium ions, and the potassium marker lit up as ions flowed out of starved cells. When the ions reached nearby cells, those cells also released potassium, refreshing the signal. The signal flowed outward in this way until it reached the biofilm’s edge. And in response to the signal, edge cells stopped dividing until the interior cells could get a meal, after which they stopped releasing potassium.

Süel’s team then created mutant bacteria without potassium channels, and they found that the cells did not grow in the same stop-start manner. (The researchers also saw no movement of labeled sodium ions in their experiments.) Like neurons, bacteria apparently use potassium ions to propagate electrical signals, Süel and his colleagues reported in Nature in 2015.

Time-lapse video of two Bacillus subtilis biofilms in a shared environment shows their synchronized growth, which the bacteria coordinate through electrical communication. Green fluorescence reveals waves of released potassium ions that sweep through the biofilms as growth signals. In Süel’s experiment, when a nutrient is plentiful (left), the two biofilms grow at the same time. Their growth signals rise and fall in sync. When the nutrient is in short supply, the two biofilms “time-share” it for more efficient consumption by growing out of phase: each grows while the other is resting.

Time-lapse video of two Bacillus subtilis biofilms in a shared environment shows their synchronized growth, which the bacteria coordinate through electrical communication. Green fluorescence reveals waves of released potassium ions that sweep through the biofilms as growth signals. In Süel’s experiment, when a nutrient is plentiful (left), the two biofilms grow at the same time. Their growth signals rise and fall in sync. When the nutrient is in short supply, the two biofilms “time-share” it for more efficient consumption by growing out of phase: each grows while the other is resting.

Time-lapse video of two Bacillus subtilis biofilms in a shared environment shows their synchronized growth, which the bacteria coordinate through electrical communication. Green fluorescence reveals waves of released potassium ions that sweep through the biofilms as growth signals. In Süel’s experiment, when a nutrient is plentiful (left), the two biofilms grow at the same time. Their growth signals rise and fall in sync. When the nutrient is in short supply, the two biofilms “time-share” it for more efficient consumption by growing out of phase: each grows while the other is resting.

Adapted from Suel Lab at UCSD (Reference: J Liu et al. Science, 2017)

Despite the parallels to neural activity, Süel emphasizes that biofilms are not just like brains. Neural signals, which rely on fast-acting sodium channels in addition to the potassium channels, can zip along at more than 100 meters per second — a speed that is critical for enabling animals to engage in sophisticated, rapid-motion behaviors such as hunting. The potassium waves in Bacillus spread at the comparatively tortoise-like rate of a few millimeters per hour. “Basically, we’re observing a primitive form of action potential in these biofilms,” Süel said. “From a mathematical perspective they’re both exactly the same. It’s just that one is much faster.”

Bacterial Broadcasting

Süel and his colleagues had more questions about that electric signal, however. When the wave of potassium-driven electrical activity reaches the edge of a biofilm, the electrical activity might stop, but the cloud of potassium ions released into the environment keeps going. The researchers therefore decided to look at what happens once the potassium wave leaves a biofilm.

The first answer came earlier this year in a Cell paper, in which they showed that Bacillus bacteria seem to use potassium ions to recruit free-swimming cells to the community. Amazingly, the bacteria attracted not only other Bacillus, but also unrelated species. Bacteria, it seems, may have evolved to live not just in monocultures but in diverse communities.

A few months later, in Science, Süel’s team showed that by exchanging potassium signals, two Bacillus biofilms can “time-share” nutrients. In these experiments, two bacterial communities took turns eating glutamate, enabling the biofilms to consume the limited nutrients more efficiently. As a result of this sharing, the biofilms grew more quickly than they could have if the bacteria had eaten as much as they could without interruption. When the researchers used bacteria with ion channels that had been modified to give weaker signals, the biofilms, no longer able to coordinate their feeding, grew more slowly.

Süel’s discoveries about how bacteria communicate electrically have exhilarated bacteria researchers.

Moh El-Naggar, a biophysicist at the University of Southern California, investigates how bacteria exchange electrical signals through “nanowires.”

Moh El-Naggar, a biophysicist at the University of Southern California, investigates how bacteria exchange electrical signals through “nanowires.”

Allison V. Smith

“I think it’s some of the most interesting work going on in all of biology right now,” said Moh El-Naggar, a biophysicist at the University of Southern California. El-Naggar studies how bacteria transfer electrons using specialized thin tubes, which he calls nanowires. Even though this transfer could also be considered a form of electrical communication, El-Naggar says that in the past, he would “put the brakes on” if someone suggested that bacteria behave similarly to neurons. Since reading Süel’s 2015 paper, he’s changed his thinking. “A lot of us can’t wait to see what comes out of this,” he said.

For Gemma Reguera, a microbiologist at Michigan State University, the recent revelations bolster an argument she has long been making to her biologist peers: that physical signals such as light, sound and electricity are as important to bacteria as chemical signals. “Perhaps [Süel’s finding] will help the scientific community and [people] outside the scientific community feel more open about other forms of physical communication” among bacteria, Reguera said.

Part of what excites researchers is that electrical signaling among bacteria shows signs of being more powerful than chemically mediated quorum sensing. Chemical signals have proved critical for coordinating certain collective behaviors, but they quickly get diluted and fade out once they’re beyond the immediate vicinity of the bacteria emitting the signal. In contrast, as Süel’s team has found, the potassium signals released from biofilms can travel with constant strength for more than 1,000 times the width of a typical bacterial cell — and even that limit is an artificial upper bound imposed by the microfluidic devices used in the experiments. The difference between quorum sensing and potassium signaling is like the difference between shouting from a mountaintop and making an international phone call.

Moreover, chemicals enable communication only with cells that have specific receptors attuned to them, Wingreen noted. Potassium, however, seems to be part of a universal language shared by animal neurons, plant cells and — scientists are increasingly finding — bacteria.

A Universal Chemical Language

“I personally have found [positively charged ion channels] in every single-celled organism I’ve ever looked at,” said Steve Lockless, a biologist at Texas A&M University who was Süel’s lab mate in graduate school. Bacteria could thus use potassium to speak not just with one another but with other life-forms, including perhaps humans, as Lockless speculated in a commentary to Süel’s 2015 paper. Research has suggested that bacteria can affect their hosts’ appetite or mood; perhaps potassium channels help provide that inter-kingdom communication channel.The fact that microbes use potassium suggests that this is an ancient adaptation that developed before the eukaryotic cells that make up plants, animals and other life-forms diverged from bacteria, according to Jordi Garcia-Ojalvo, a professor of systems biology at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona who provided theoretical modeling to support Süel’s experiments. For the phenomenon of intercellular communications, he said, the bacterial channel “might be a good candidate for the evolutionary ancestor of the whole behavior.”

The findings form “a very interesting piece of work,” said James Shapiro, a bacterial geneticist at the University of Chicago. Shapiro is not afraid of bold hypotheses: He has argued that bacterial colonies might be capable of a form of cognition. But he approaches analogies between neurons and bacteria with caution. The potassium-mediated behaviors Süel has demonstrated so far are simple enough that they don’t require the type of sophisticated circuitry brains have evolved, Shapiro said. “It’s not clear exactly how much information processing is going on.”

Süel agrees. But he’s currently less interested in quantifying the information content of biofilms than in revealing what other feats bacteria are capable of. He’s now trying to see if biofilms of diverse bacterial species time-share the way biofilms of pure Bacillus do.

The view from above of a B. subtilis biofilm growing in culture. The varied structures within the biofilm relate to specialized functions that the cells in different parts of the biofilm assume.

The view from above of a B. subtilis biofilm growing in culture. The varied structures within the biofilm relate to specialized functions that the cells in different parts of the biofilm assume.

Hera Vlamakis, Harvard University Medical School

He also wants to develop what he calls “bacterial biofilm electrophysiology”: techniques for studying electrical activity in bacteria directly, the way neuroscientists have probed the brain for decades. Tools designed for bacteria would be a major boon, said Elisa Masi, a researcher at the University of Florence in Italy who has used electrodes designed for neurons to detect electrical activity in bacteria. “We are talking about cells that are really, really small,” she said. “It’s difficult to observe their metabolic activity, and there is no specific method” for measuring their electrical signals.

Süel and his colleagues are now developing such tools as part of a $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Simons Foundation (which publishes Quanta).

The findings could also lead to new kinds of antibiotics or bacteria-inspired technologies, Süel said, but such applications are years away. The more immediate payoff is the excitement of once again revolutionizing our conceptions about bacteria. “It’s amazing how our understanding of bacteria has evolved over the last couple decades,” El-Naggar said. He is curious about how well potassium signaling works in complex, ion-filled natural settings such as the ocean. “Now we’re thinking of [bacteria] as masters of manipulating electrons and ions in their environment. It’s a very, very far cry from the way we thought of them as very simplistic organisms.”

“Step by step we find that all the things we think bacteria don’t do, they actually do,” Wingreen said. “It’s displacing us from our pedestal.”

These Bacteria Digest Toxic Metals And Poop Out Tiny Gold Nuggets


No other life form on our planet has infiltrated every environment as successfully as the minuscule single cells of bacteria. Amongst their many roles in life on Earth, it turns out some of these microbes are also experts at purifying precious metals.

An international team of researchers has figured out how one metal-gobbling bacterium, Cupriavidus metallidurans, manages to ingest toxic metallic compounds and still thrive, producing tiny gold nuggets as a side-effect.

Just like many other elements, gold can move through what’s known as a biogeochemical cycle – being dissolved, shifted around, and eventually re-concentrated in Earth’s sediment.

Microbes are involved in every step of this process, which has led scientists to wonder how they don’t get poisoned by the highly toxic compounds that gold ions usually form in the soil.

The rod-shaped C. metallidurans was first found to poop gold nuggets back in 2009, when scientists discovered that it somehow manages to ingest toxic gold compounds and convert them into the element’s metallic form without any apparent danger to the organism itself.

“The results of this study point to their involvement in the active detoxification of gold complexes leading to formation of gold biominerals,” lead researcher, geomicrobiologist Frank Reith said in 2009.

Now, after years of investigation, Reith and his colleagues finally know the precise mechanism of how the bacterium achieves this amazing feat.

C. metallidurans thrives in soils which contain both hydrogen and a range of toxic heavy metals. This means the bacterium doesn’t have much competition from other organisms that can be easily poisoned in such an environment.

“If an organism chooses to survive here, it has to find a way to protect itself from these toxic substances,” says co-author of the latest study, microbiologist Dietrich H. Nies from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany.

As it turns out, the bacterium has a pretty ingenious protective mechanism, which involves not just gold, but also copper.

Compounds containing both of these elements can easily get into C. metallidurans cells. Once inside, they interact in such a way that copper ions and gold complexes get transported deep inside the bacterium, where they could potentially wreak havoc.

To deal with this problem, bacteria employ enzymes to shift the offending metals out of their cells – for copper, there’s an enzyme called CupA. But the presence of gold causes a new problem.

“When gold compounds are also present, the enzyme is suppressed and the toxic copper and gold compounds remain inside the cell,” says Nies.

At this point other bacteria might just give up and go live somewhere less toxic, but not C. metallidurans. This organism has another enzyme up its sleeve, which scientists have labelled CopA.

With this molecule, the bacterium can convert the copper and gold compounds into forms that are less easily absorbed by the cell.

“This assures that fewer copper and gold compounds enter the cellular interior,” explains Nies.

“The bacterium is poisoned less and the enzyme that pumps out the copper can dispose of the excess copper unimpeded.”

But not only does this process let the microbe shed all that unwanted copper, it also results in teeny tiny gold nugget nanoparticles on the bacterial surface.

The results of this research, which builds on previous work by the same team, are a fascinating insight into the workings of a strange microbe. But on top of that, the bacterium’s weird talent could actually be put to a good use.

Understanding how C. metallidurans can poop out gold nuggets means scientists just got a huge step closer to unlocking the biogeochemical cycle of gold.

In the future these insights could be used to refine the precious metal from ores that only contain small amounts of metal – something that’s currently a very tricky prospect.

US warning on antibacterial soaps.


US health watchdog cracks down on antibacterial soaps

A woman washes her hands with antibacterial soap in a September 2009 file photo
Scientists warn antibacterial products may create resistance to antibiotics in humans (file photo)

The US health regulator has warned that antibacterial chemicals in soaps and body washes may pose health risks.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called for a safety review of such products.

It proposed a rule requiring manufacturers to prove such soaps are safe and more effective against infection than plain soap and water.

Recent studies indicate an ingredient in such products could scramble hormone levels and boost drug-proof bacteria.

The proposal rule does not apply to alcohol-based hand sanitizers and products used in healthcare settings.

Manufacturers have until the end of 2014 to submit the results of clinical trials on their products, the FDA said. The new regulations would be finalised in 2016.

‘Unanticipated hormonal effects’

“New data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antibacterial soaps may outweigh the benefits,” Colleen Rogers, an FDA microbiologist, wrote in a statement on Monday.

Certain ingredients in such products – such as triclosan in liquid soaps and triclocarban in bar soaps – may contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics, the agency added.

Such products may also have “unanticipated hormonal effects that are of concern”, according to the statement.

Recent studies of such chemicals on animals have shown they may alter hormones, the FDA said, but such results have not yet been proven in humans.

“Because so many consumers use them, FDA believes that there should be clearly demonstrated benefits to balance any potential risks,” the statement added.

If the FDA’s proposed rule is finalised, companies would be required to provide data to support their product’s health claims.

If they cannot, the products would be reformulated or relabelled in order to remain on the market.

In March, a federal appeals court approved a lawsuit by the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council, aimed at forcing the FDA to review the health impacts of triclosan.

Antibiotics are ‘not for snot’


Running noses and green phlegm do not mean patients need antibiotics, say doctors and public health experts.

It was described as a “prevailing myth” that the drugs were needed to treat such infections.

Snotty child

Public Health England and the Royal College of General Practitioners said the symptoms were often caused by viruses.

And the use of antibiotics was leading to resistance, they said.

Public Health England said its own research showed that 40% of people thought antibiotics would help a cough if the phlegm was green, while very few thought it would make a difference to clear-coloured phlegm.

Dr Cliodna McNulty, from the organisation, said: “It’s a prevailing myth that anyone with green phlegm or snot needs a course of antibiotics to get better.

“Most of the infections that generate lots of phlegm and snot are viral illnesses and will get better on their own although you can expect to feel pretty poorly for a few weeks.

“The problems of antibiotic resistance are growing. Everyone can help by not using antibiotics for the treatment of uncomplicated infections.”

Taking antibiotics affects the trillions of bacteria that naturally live in the human body and can lead to resistance.

Dr Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Overuse of antibiotics is a serious public health concern.

“Infections adapt to antibiotics used to kill them and can ultimately make treatment ineffective so it’s crucial that antibiotics are used appropriately.”

The green colour in phlegm and snot is the result of a protein made by the immune system to fight infection.

The latest advice comes on European Antibiotics Awareness Day.

Narrow-Spectrum Antibiotics Effective for Pediatric Pneumonia.


Narrow-spectrum antibiotics have similar efficacy and cost-effectiveness as broad-spectrum antibiotics in the treatment of pediatric community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), according to the findings of a retrospective study.

Derek J Williams, MD, MPH, from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, and colleagues published their findings online October 28 in Pediatrics.

“The 2011 Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society/Infectious Diseases Society of America…guideline for the management of children with [CAP] recommends narrow-spectrum antimicrobial therapy for most hospitalized children,” the authors write. “Nevertheless, few studies have directly compared the effectiveness of narrow-spectrum agents to the broader spectrum third-generation cephalosporins commonly used among hospitalized children with CAP.”

Therefore, the researchers used the Pediatric Health Information System database to assess the hospital length of stay (LOS) and associated healthcare costs of children aged 6 months to 18 years who were diagnosed with pneumonia between July 2005 and June 2011 and treated with either narrow-spectrum or broad-spectrum antibiotics. The authors excluded children with potentially severe pneumonia, those at risk for healthcare-associated infections, and those with mild disease requiring less than 2 days of hospitalization.

Narrow-spectrum therapy consisted of the exclusive use of penicillin or ampicillin, whereas broad-spectrum treatment was defined as the exclusive use of parenteral ceftriaxone or cefotaxime.

The median LOS for the entire study population (n = 15,564) was 3 days (interquartile range, 3 – 4 days), and LOS was not significantly different between the narrow-spectrum and broad-spectrum treatment groups (adjusted difference [aD], 0.12 days; P = .11), after adjustments for covariates including age, sex, and ethnicity.

Similarly, the investigators found no differences in the proportion of children requiring intensive care unit admission in the first 2 days of hospitalization (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 0.85; 95% CI, 0.25 – 2.73) or hospital readmission within 14 days (aOR, 0.85; 95% CI, 0.45 – 1.63) were noted between the groups.

Narrow-spectrum treatment was also linked to a similar cost of hospitalization (aD, −$14.4; 95% CI, −$177.1 to $148.3) and cost per episode of illness (aD, −$18.6; 95% CI, −$194 to $156.9) as broad-spectrum therapy.

The researchers note that the limitations of the study were mostly related to its retrospective nature, including potential confounding by indication, the absence of etiologic and other clinical data, and a relative lack of objective outcome measures.

“Clinical outcomes and costs for children hospitalized with CAP are not different when empirical treatment is with narrow-spectrum compared with broad-spectrum therapy,” the authors write. “Programs promoting guideline implementation and targeting judicious antibiotic selection for CAP are needed to optimize management of childhood CAP in the United States.”

Antibiotics for All but Very Mild C difficile.


On October 29, the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection (ESCMID) issued updated guidelines for Clostridium difficile infection (CDI), reviewing treatment options of antibiotics, toxin-binding resins and polymers, immunotherapy, probiotics, and fecal or bacterial intestinal transplantation. The new recommendations, published online October 5 in Clinical Microbiology and Infection, advise antibiotic treatment for all but very mild cases of CDI.

CDI, which is potentially fatal, is now the leading cause of healthcare-acquired infections in hospitals, having surpassed methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

“[A]fter the recent development of new alternative drugs for the treatment of CDI (e.g. fidaxomicin) in US and Europe, there has been an increasing need for an update on the comparative effectiveness of the currently available antibiotic agents in the treatment of CDI, thereby providing evidence-based recommendations on this issue,” write Sylvia B. Debast, from the Centre for Infectious Diseases, Leiden University Medical Center The Netherlands, and colleagues from the ESCMID Committee.

The new guideline, which updates the 2009 ESCMID recommendations now used widely in clinical practice, summarizes currently available CDI treatment options and offers updated treatment recommendations on the basis of a literature search of randomized and nonrandomized trials.

The ESCMID and an international team of experts from 11 European countries developed recommendations for different patient subgroups, including initial nonsevere disease, severe CDI, first recurrence or risk for recurrent disease, multiple recurrences, and treatment of CDI when patients cannot receive oral antibiotics.

Antibiotic Recommended in Most Cases

Specific recommendations include the following:

·         For nonepidemic, nonsevere CDI clearly induced by antibiotic use, with no signs of severe colitis, it may be acceptable to stop the inducing antibiotic and observe the clinical response for 48 hours. However, patients must be monitored very closely and treated immediately for any signs of clinical deterioration.

·         Antibiotic treatment is recommended for all cases of CDI except for very mild CDI, which is actually triggered by antibiotic use. Suitable antibiotics include metronidazole, vancomycin, and fidaxomicin, a newer antibiotic that can be given by mouth.

·         For mild/moderate disease, metronidazole is recommended as oral antibiotic treatment of initial CDI (500 mg 3 times daily for 10 days).

·         Fidaxomicin may be used in all CDI patients for whom oral antibiotic treatment is appropriate. Specific indications for fidaxomicin may include first-line treatment in patients with first CDI recurrence or at risk for recurrent disease, in patients with multiple recurrences of CDI, and in patients with severe disease and nonsevere CDI.

These recommendations were based on 2 large phase 3 clinical studies that compared 400 mg/day oral fidaxomicin with 500 mg/day oral vancomycin, the standard of care. The rate of CDI recurrence was lower with fidaxomicin, but the cure rate was similar for both treatments.

·         For severe CDI, suitable oral antibiotic regimens are vancomycin 125 mg 4 times daily (may be increased to 500 mg 4 times daily) for 10 days, or fidaxomicin 200 mg twice daily for 10 days.

·         In life-threatening CDI, there is no evidence supporting the use of fidaxomicin.

·         In severe CDI or life-threatening disease, the use of oral metronidazole is strongly discouraged.

·         For multiple recurrent CDI, fecal transplantation is strongly recommended.

·         Total abdominal colectomy or diverting loop ileostomy combined with colonic lavage is recommended for CDI with colonic perforation and/or systemic inflammation and deteriorating clinical condition despite antibiotic treatment.

·         Additional measures for CDI management include discontinuing unnecessary antimicrobial therapy, adequate fluid and electrolyte replacement, avoiding antimotility medications, and reviewing proton pump inhibitor use.

‘We’ve reached the end of antibiotics’


‘We’ve reached the end of antibiotics‘: Top CDC expert declares that ‘miracle drugs’ that have saved millions are no match against ‘superbugs’ because people have overmedicated themselves

A high-ranking official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared in an interview with PBS that the age of antibiotics has come to an end.

‘For a long time, there have been newspaper stories and covers of magazines that talked about “The end of antibiotics, question mark?”‘ said Dr Arjun Srinivasan. ‘Well, now I would say you can change the title to “The end of antibiotics, period.”’

Nightmare superbug: Srinivasan said that about 10 years ago, he began seeing outbreaks of different kinds of MRSA infections, which previously had been limited to hospitals, in schools and gyms

The associate director of the CDC sat down with Frontline over the summer for a lengthy interview about the growing problem of antibacterial resistance.

Srinivasan, who is also featured in a Frontline report called ‘Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria,’ which aired Tuesday, said that both humans and livestock have been overmedicated to such a degree that bacteria are now resistant to antibiotics.

‘We’re in the post-antibiotic era,’ he said. ‘There are patients for whom we have no therapy, and we are literally in a position of having a patient in a bed who has an infection, something that five years ago even we could have treated, but now we can’t.’.

Dr Srinivasan offered an example of this notion, citing the recent case of three Tampa Bay Buccaneers players who made headlines after reportedly contracting potentially deadly MRSA infections, which until recently were largely restricted to hospitals.

About 10 years ago, however, the CDC official began seeing outbreaks of different kinds of MRSA infections in schools and gyms.

‘In hospitals, when you see MRSA infections, you oftentimes see that in patients who have a catheter in their blood, and that creates an opportunity for MRSA to get into their bloodstream,’ he said.

Nightmare superbug: Srinivasan said that about 10 years ago, he began seeing outbreaks of different kinds of MRSA infections, which previously had been limited to hospitals, in schools and gyms

‘In the community, it was causing a very different type of infection. It was causing a lot of very, very serious and painful infections of the skin, which was completely different from what we would see in health care.’

With bacteria constantly evolving and developing resistance to conventional antibiotics, doctors have been forced to ‘reach back into the archives’ and ‘dust off’ older, more dangerous cures like colistin.

‘It’s very toxic,’ said Srinivasan. ‘We don’t like to use it. It damages the kidneys. But we’re forced to use it in a lot of instances.’

The expert went on, saying that the discovery of antibiotics in 1928 by Professor Alexander Fleming revolutionized medicine, allowing doctors to treat hundreds of millions of people suffering from illnesses that had been considered terminal for centuries.

 

Antibiotics also paved the way for successful organ transplants, chemotherapy, stem cell and bone marrow transplantations – all the procedures that weaken the immune system and make the body susceptible to infections.

However, the CDC director explained that people have fueled the fire of bacterial resistance through rampant overuse and misuse of antibiotics.

‘These drugs are miracle drugs, these antibiotics that we have, but we haven’t taken good care of them over the 50 years that we’ve had them,’ he told Frontline.

Srinivasan added that pharmaceutical companies are at least partially to blame for this problem, saying that they have neglected the development of new and more sophisticated antibiotics that could keep up with bacterial resistance because ‘there’s not much money to be made’ in this field.
 

The Dangers of Science: Population Explosion, Antibiotic Resistance, and Medicine.


Many argue that science and technology are bringing us closer and closer to perfection. Of course there are a number of issues with pollutants and sustainability, but speaking specifically about modern medicine, few will deny how few we have come.  In fact, there are many scientists who predict that humans could be living to be 150 years old in the near future, some even assert that the first person who will live to be 150 has already been born.

Information via USDA report, which can be found here

And it’s all thanks to science.

Modern drugs that help us combat the flu, malaria, and a host of other health issues have drastically increased the lives of many around the world. Thanks to new drugs and medicine, each year the average life expectancy increases…even in the most depressing areas on Earth. However, is this truly a triumph? Or is it cause for some concern?

One issue associated with modern medicine is the increase in population. Although vast tracks of the planet are still uninhabited, humanity’s agriculture alone takes up a landmass equal to South America. As we continue to improve our medicine, the population of the planet is only going to increase…and so will our demand for natural resources. However, population isn’t the only thing that we need to be concerned about. One of the biggest concerns? We might not be able to use antibiotics for much longer. Yes, you read that right.

Oxford researchers recently conducted a study on antibiotic resistance and noted that, “Antibiotic resistance is subject to frequent press comment, with fears expressed that we shall soon ‘run out’ of antibiotics and that classical infections will regain their status as major sources of mortality. It is suggested, too, that a swathe of modern medical procedures—from transplants to immunosuppressive cancer management—may collapse, as each depends crucially on our ability to treat infection.” When interrogating the accuracy of these fears, the researchers found that, although the resistance landscape is not as bleak as it is sometimes painted, there is a cause for serious concern.

So, how did we get here?

One was is the introduction of antibiotics to livestock. Ultimately, bacteria are becoming more resilient to existing antibiotics because many farmers do not properly regulate the intake of what their animals receive. Instead, all animals are given the same drugs, regardless of whether this is actually necessary. This leads vast swaths of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which no longer have to compete with non-resistant bacteria. As such, the resistant bacteria flourish. This, in turn, leads to the antibiotic becoming ineffective when used in humans. This new epidemic is already becoming apparent in many situations, and many hospitals are struggling to cope with the rise in the number of infections that patients obtain, post operation, due to ineffective antibiotics.

To keep up with this epidemic, pharmaceutical companies must invest heavily into finding and testing new antibiotics that can fight against the ‘Super Bug’. Since some bacteria are resistant to some antibiotics naturally, scientists and working to extract what it is that allows them to have a resistance. Moreover, scientists are looking in deep ocean ridges, that harbor millions of bacteria, which they believe may help them discover a new antidote; however, it could be sometime until they find and test a suitable new antibiotic…which then would only treat against one type of bacteria. This is problematic, as  there are millions of bacteria that can significantly harm us.

Many say that the only way to overcome this epidemic is for governments to provide sufficient funding to the companies to enable them to continue researching.

CDC Reveals Disturbing Truth about Factory Farms and Superbugs..


Story at-a-glance

  • Agricultural usage accounts for about 80 percent of all antibiotic use in the US, so it’s a MAJOR source of human antibiotic consumption
  • According to a new CDC report, antibiotics used in livestock plays a role in antibiotic resistance and “should be phased out”; 22 percent of antibiotic-resistant illness in humans is in fact linked to food
  • MRSA infection has been rapidly increasing among people outside hospital settings as well. Increasing evidence points to factory-scale hog facilities as a source
  • Previous research suggests you have a 50/50 chance of buying meat tainted with drug-resistant bacteria when you buy meat from your local grocery store
  • Excessive exposure to antibiotics—which includes regularly eating antibiotic-laced CAFO meats—also takes a heavy toll on your gastrointestinal health. This in turn can predispose you to virtually any disease.
  • Antibiotics

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), antibiotic resistance is a major threat to public health worldwide, and the primary cause for this man-made epidemic is the widespread misuse of antibiotics.1

Antibiotic overuse occurs not just in medicine, but also in food production. In fact, agricultural usage accounts for about 80 percent of all antibiotic use in the US,2 so it’s a MAJOR source of human antibiotic consumption.

According to a 2009 report3 by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on this subject, factory farms used a whopping 29 million pounds of antibiotics that year alone.

Animals are often fed antibiotics at low doses for disease prevention and growth promotion, and those antibiotics are transferred to you via meat, and even through the animal manure that is used as crop fertilizer.

Antibiotics are also used to compensate for the crowded, unsanitary living conditions associated with large-scale confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

CDC Confirms Link Between CAFOs and Superbugs

Now, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention4 (CDC) has finally come out saying that yes, antibiotics used in livestock plays a role in antibiotic resistance and “should be phased out.” According to the CDC’s report,5 22 percent of antibiotic-resistant illness in humans is in fact linked to food. As reported by the featured article:6

“The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said that the report shows that drug-resistant hazards in the food supply pose a serious threat to public health. One-third of the 12 resistant pathogens that CDC categorized as a ‘serious’ threat to public health are found in food.”

The four drug-resistant pathogens in question are Campylobacter, which causes an estimated 310,000 infections and 28 deaths per year; Salmonella, responsible for another 100,000 infections and 38 deaths annually; along with E.coli and Shigella. To address this growing problem, the CDC’s report issues the following recommendations:

  • Avoid inappropriate antibiotic use in food animals
  • Track antibiotic use in food animals
  • Stop spread of Campylobacter among animals on farms
  • Improve food production and processing to reduce contamination
  • Educate consumers and food workers about safe food handling practices

Source: CDC.gov, Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013

MRSA Spreading Via Hog Farms?

Two drug-resistant pathogens more commonly associated with antibiotic overuse in human medicine include Clostridium difficile and Staphylococcus aureus. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infects more than 80,460 people and kills 11,285 people annually. Disturbingly, as discussed in a recent Mother Jones7 article, MRSA infection has been rapidly increasing among people outside hospital settings as well.

As stated in the article:

“Increasing evidence points to factory-scale hog facilities as a source. In a recent study,8 a team of researchers led by University of Iowa’s Tara Smith found MRSA in 8.5 percent of pigs on conventional farms and no pigs on antibiotic-free farms. Meanwhile, a study9, 10 just released by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who live near hog farms or places where hog manure is applied as fertilizer have a much greater risk of contracting MRSA.”

In the latter study, people with the highest exposure to manure were 38 percent more likely to contract community-associated MRSA, and 30 percent more likely to get healthcare-associated MRSA. Level of exposure was calculated based on proximity to hog farms, the size of the farms, and how much manure the farm in question used. 

Back in 2009 a University of Iowa study11 found that a full 70 percent of hogs and 64 percent of workers in industrial animal confinements tested positive for antibiotic-resistant MRSA. The study pointed out that, once MRSA is introduced, it could spread broadly to other swine and their caretakers, as well as to their families and friends.

In other parts of the world, such as the European Union, the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animal feed has been banned for years. Yet in the US this is still a topic of debate, with industry supporters trying to downplay the inevitable fact that this irresponsible use of antibiotics is most likely posing a serious risk to human health and the environment.

As reported in 2011, you have a 50/50 chance of buying meat tainted with drug-resistant bacteria when you buy meat from your local grocery store. This shocking finding came from a study by the Translational Genomics Research Institute,12 which revealed that 47 percent of the meat and poultry samples tested contained antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. These were samples from 80 different brands of beef, chicken, pork, and turkey from more than two dozen grocery stores scattered across the United States, in large cities from Los Angeles to Washington D.C.

The fact that antibiotic-resistant superbugs are found so widely in US meat supplies is a major red flag, a sign that we are nearing the point of no return where superbugs will continue to flourish with very little we can do to stop them. While I am not one to recommend many medications, antibiotics can be VERY useful when you need to treat a serious bacterial infection. When used properly, in the correct contexts and with responsibility, antibiotics can and do save lives that are threatened by bacterial infections. But they will only remain effective if urgent changes are made to curb the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and disease… and this will only happen with a serious reduction in their use now.

Choose Your Foods Wisely

Conventional medicine certainly needs to curtail its prescriptions for antibiotics, but even if you use antibiotics judiciously you’re still exposed to great amounts of antibiotics from the foods you eat, and this is entirely unnecessary. This is one of the primary reasons why I ONLY recommend organic, grass-fed, free-range meats or organic pastured chickens, as non-medical use of antibiotics is not permitted in organic farming. They’re also far superior to CAFO-raised meats in terms ofnutritional content.

To source pure, healthful meats, your best option is to get to know a local farmer — one who uses non-toxic farming methods. If you live in an urban area, there are increasing numbers of community-supported agriculture programsavailable that offer access to healthy, locally grown foods even if you live in the heart of the city. Being able to find high-quality meat is such an important issue for me personally that I’ve made connections with sources I know provide high-quality organic grass-fed beef and free-range chicken, both of which you can find in my online store. You can eliminate the shipping charges, however, if you find a trusted farmer locally. If you live in the US, the Weston Price Foundation13 also has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase these types of foods, including grass-fed raw dairy products like milk and butter.

How CAFO Meats May Decimate Your Gut Health

Antibiotic-resistant disease is not the only danger associated with the misuse of these drugs. Excessive exposure to antibiotics—which includes regularly eating antibiotic-laced CAFO meats—also takes a heavy toll on your gastrointestinal health. This in turn can predispose you to virtually any disease. Protecting your gut health and reducing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are significant reasons for making sure you’re only eating grass-fed, organically-raised meats.

In related news, researchers at Oregon State University point out the close links between your gut health and a wide range of health issues.14 As noted in the university press release:

“Problems ranging from autoimmune disease to clinical depression and simple obesity may in fact be linked to immune dysfunction that begins with a ‘failure to communicate’ in the human gut, the scientists say. Health care of the future may include personalized diagnosis of an individual’s ‘microbiome’ to determine what prebiotics or probiotics are needed to provide balance.

Appropriate sanitation such as clean water and sewers are good. But some erroneous lessons in health care may need to be unlearned—leaving behind the fear of dirt, the love of antimicrobial cleansers, and the outdated notion that an antibiotic is always a good idea. We live in a world of ‘germs’ and many of them are good for us.

An emerging theory of disease, [Dr. Natalia] Shulzhenko said, is a disruption in the ‘crosstalk’ between the microbes in the human gut and other cells involved in the immune system and metabolic processes. ‘In a healthy person, these microbes in the gut stimulate the immune system as needed, and it in turn talks back,’ Shulzhenko said. ‘There’s an increasing disruption of these microbes from modern lifestyle, diet, overuse of antibiotics and other issues. With that disruption, the conversation is breaking down.’”

The widespread deterioration of people’s gut health can be traced back to the change in our modern diet. This includes the introduction of meats from unnaturally-raised livestock, fed genetically engineered corn and soy along with a mixture of antibiotics and other drugs. But another important dietary factor is the shunning of traditionally fermented foods, which are naturally high in the beneficial bacteria necessary for optimal gut health. Mounting research shows that beneficial bacteria in your gut is likely to have significant benefits to your health and may be essential for:

  • Protection against over-growth of other microorganisms that could cause disease
  • Digestion of food and absorption of nutrients and certain carbohydrates
  • Producing vitamins, absorbing minerals, and eliminating toxins
  • Preventing allergies
  • Maintaining natural defenses

Numerous studies have also shown that your gut flora plays a role in:

  • Mood, psychological health, and behavior
  • Celiac disease
  • Diabetes
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome

Nurturing Your Gut Flora Is One of the Foundations of Optimal Health

Besides antibiotics, your gut bacteria are also vulnerable to factors such as chlorinated water, antibacterial soaps, pollution, and agricultural chemicals—especially glyphosate, which, incidentally, is the most widely used herbicide in the world. To protect your gut health, it’s important to avoid processed, refined foods in your diet and to regularly reseed your gut with good bacteria by eating non-pasteurized, traditionally fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables, or taking a high-quality probiotic supplement.

One of the reasons why fermented foods are so beneficial is because they contain a wide variety of different beneficial bacteria. Also, if fermented with a probiotics starter culture, the amount of healthy bacteria in a serving of fermented vegetables can far exceed the amount you’ll find in commercial probiotics supplements, making it a very cost-effective alternative. Ideally, you want to eat a variety of fermented foods to maximize the variety of bacteria you’re consuming. Healthy options include:

Lassi (an Indian yogurt drink, traditionally enjoyed before dinner) Various pickled fermentations of cabbage (sauerkraut), turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash, and carrots Tempeh
Traditionally fermented raw milk such as kefir or yogurt, but NOT commercial versions, which typically do not have live cultures and are loaded with sugars that feed pathogenic bacteria Natto (fermented soy) Kim chee

 

When choosing fermented foods, steer clear of pasteurized versions, as pasteurization will destroy many of the naturally occurring probiotics. This includes most of the “probiotic” yogurts you find in every grocery store these days; since they’re pasteurized, they will be associated with all of the problems of pasteurized milk products. They also typically contain added sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring, and artificial sweeteners, all of which will only worsen your health.

When you first start out, you’ll want to start small, adding as little as half a tablespoon of fermented vegetables to each meal, and gradually working your way up to about a quarter to half a cup (2 to 4 oz) of fermented vegetables or other cultured food with one to three meals per day. Since cultured foods are efficient detoxifiers, you may experience detox symptoms, or a “healing crisis,” if you introduce too many at once. That said, three very positive changes occur when your good-to-bad intestinal bacteria ratio is brought back into balance:

  • Digestive problems diminish or disappear
  • Your immune system de-stresses and is better equipped to fight off disease of all kinds, contributing to a longer and healthier life
  • Your body begins to use all the good food and nutritional supplements you feed it

What Most Doctors Won’t Tell You About Colds and Flus.


 

The next time you experience a cold or the flu, remember this: rather than take conventional drugs to suppress uncomfortable symptoms, it’s better for your health to allow the cold or flu to run its course while you get plenty of physical and emotional rest.

Conventional medicine and the pharmaceutical industry would have you believe that there is no “cure” for the common cold, that you should protect yourself against the flu with a vaccine that is laden with toxic chemicals, and that during the midst of a cold or flu, it is favorable to ease your discomfort with a variety of medications that can suppress your symptoms.

Unfortunately, all three of these positions indicate a lack of understanding of what colds and flus really are, and what they do for your body.

Colds and flus are caused by viruses. So to understand what colds and flus do at a cellular level, you have to understand what viruses do at a cellular level.

Do you remember learning about cellular division in grade seven science class? Each of your cells are called parent cells, and through processes of genetic duplication (mitosis) and cellular division (cytokinesis), each of your parent cells divides into two daughter cells. Each daughter cell is then considered a parent cell that will divide into two more daughter cells, and so on.

Viruses are different from your cells in that they cannot duplicate themselves through mitosis and cytokinesis. Viruses are nothing but microscopic particles of genetic material, each coated by a thin layer of protein.

Due to their design, viruses are not able to reproduce on their own. The only way that viruses can flourish in your body is by using the machinery and metabolism of your cells to produce multiple copies of themselves.

Once a virus has gained access into one of your cells, depending on the type of virus involved, one of two things can happen:
The virus uses your cell’s resources to replicate itself many times over and then breaks open (lyses) the cell so that the newly replicated viruses can leave in search of new cells to infect. Lysis effectively kills your cell.

The virus incorporates itself into the DNA of your cell, which allows the virus to be passed on to each daughter cell that stems from this cell. Later on, the virus in each daughter cell can begin replicating itself as described above. Once multiple copies of the virus have been produced, the cell is lysed.

Both possibilities lead to the same result: eventually, the infected cell can die due to lysis.

Here is the key to understanding why colds and flus, when allowed to run their course while you rest, can be good for you:

By and large, the viruses that cause the common cold and the flu infect mainly your weakest cells; cells that are already burdened with excessive waste products and toxins are most likely to allow viruses to infect them. These are cells that you want to get rid of anyway, to be replaced by new, healthy cells.

So in the big scheme of things, a cold or flu is a natural event that can allow your body to purge itself of old and damaged cells that, in the absence of viral infection, would normally take much longer to identify, destroy, and eliminate.

Have you ever been amazed by how much “stuff” you could blow out of your nose while you had a cold or the flu? Embedded within all of that mucous are countless dead cells that your body is saying good bye to, largely due to the lytic effect of viruses.

So you see, there never needs to be a cure for the common cold, since the common cold is nature’s way of keeping you healthy over the long term. And so long as you get plenty of rest and strive to stay hydrated and properly nourished during a cold or flu, there is no need to get vaccinated or to take medications that suppress congested sinuses, a fever, or coughing. All of these uncomfortable symptoms are actually ways in which your body works to eliminate waste products and/or help your body get through a cold or flu. It’s fine to use over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen if your discomfort becomes intolerable or if such meds can help you get a good night’s rest. But it’s best to avoid medications that aim to suppress helpful processes such as fever, coughing, and a runny nose.

It’s important to note that just because colds and flus can be helpful to your body doesn’t mean that you need to experience them to be at your best. If you take good care of your health and immune system by getting plenty of rest and consistently making health-promoting dietary and lifestyle choices, your cells may stay strong enough to avoid getting infected by viruses that come knocking on their membranes. In this scenario, you won’t have enough weak and extraneous cells to require a cold or the flu to work its way through your body to identify and lyse them.

Curious about how to differentiate the common cold and the flu? Here is an excellent summary of the differences from cbc.ca:
A cold usually comes on gradually — over the course of a day or two. Generally, it leaves you feeling tired, sneezing, coughing and plagued by a running nose. You often don’t have a fever, but when you do, it’s only slightly higher than normal. Colds usually last three to four days, but can hang around for 10 days to two weeks.

Flu, on the other hand, comes on suddenly and hits hard. You will feel weak and tired and you could run a fever as high as 40 C. Your muscles and joints will probably ache, you will feel chilled and could have a severe headache and sore throat. Getting off the couch or out of bed will be a chore. The fever may last three to five days, but you could feel weak and tired for two to three weeks.

One final note on this topic: because the common cold and the flu are both caused by viruses, antibiotics are not necessary. People who take antibiotics while suffering with a cold or flu often feel slightly better because antibiotics have a mild anti-inflammatory effect. But this benefit is far outweighed by the negative impact that antibiotics have on friendly bacteria that live throughout your digestive tract. In this light, if you really need help with pain management during a cold or flu, it is usually better to take a small dose of acetaminophen than it is to take antibiotics.

Sources: drbenkim.com & realfarmacy.com