Over the next few weeks, we are pleased to share a series of posts taken from the article titled: “Antibiotics: 21st Century Time Bomb” by Keith Wassung. This series focuses on the issues caused by overuse of antibiotics in today’s society. Last week’s article introduced some of the problems caused by the way antibiotics are prescribed. This week’s post highlights facts about bacteria.
Part 2: Antibiotics – 21st Century Time Bomb: The War on Bacteria
Bacteria, one of the smallest and most plentiful life forms on Earth, thrive successfully in the most inhospitable places and quickly adapt to new conditions in order to survive. We commonly assume that these tiny animals are evil little beasts out to destroy higher forms of life. In fact, all they are trying to do is survive and reproduce, just as humans do.
Bacterial drug resistance is a matter of natural adaptation. The longer a bacterium is exposed to a given drug, the more likely it is to develop universal resistance. Bacteria pull out all of the stops in order to resist drugs. They may release special enzymes that render a drug impotent or change their outer membrane that a drug cannot gain entrance. They can even alter their internal structures so that they are no longer susceptible to the drug.
The Dutch merchant and amateur scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723) was the first person to observe bacteria and other microorganisms. Using single-lens microscopes of his own design, he described bacteria and other microorganisms (calling them “animalcules”) in a series of letters to the Royal Society of London between 1674 and 1723.
Bacteria are generally classified into three groups based on their shape. They are described as spherical (coccus), rodlike (bacillus), or spiral or corkscrew (spirochete [pronounced SPY-ruh-keet] or spirilla). Some bacteria also have a shape like that of a comma and are known as vibrio.
Bacteria most commonly reproduce by fission, the process by which a single cell divides to produce two new cells. The process of fission may take anywhere from 15 minutes to 16 hours, depending on the type of bacterium.
A number of factors influence the rate at which bacterial growth occurs, the most important of which are moisture, temperature, and ph.
Most bacteria require a pH of 6.7 to 7.5 (slightly more or less acidic than pure water). Other bacteria, however, can survive at a pH more severe than that of battery acid.