Bacteria Keep “Outsmarting” Antibiotics

While antibiotics are still a very essential and useful weapon in our modern-day warfare against bacterial infections, their effectiveness has been thwarted by the development of antibiotic resistance. Some bacteria have even developed resistance to multiple antibiotics such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). In order to develop more effective antibiotics, scientists are trying to determine exactly how bacteria become resistant in the first place.

Physorg.com recently reported on a study done on a new “superbug” called Staphylococcus sciuri.[1] The bacteria has been associated with endocarditis (inflammation associated with the lining of the heart), peritonitis (inflammation associated with the lining of the abdomen), septic shock, urinary tract infection, pelvic inflammatory disease, and wound infections. The Physorg.com article states, “Booker [scientist researching the bacteria] explained that, several years ago, genetic studies had revealed that Staphylococcus sciuri — a non-human bacterial pathogen — had evolved a new gene called cfr.” But did it really evolve a new gene, which implies that the gene was previously not there?

The cfr gene resides on a plasmid (mobile element) and can easily be transferred from one bacterium to another. The cfr protein transfers chemical groups called methyl groups to the ribosome (protein-making factory) that prohibits antibiotics from binding to the ribosome but does not affect the function of the ribosome. The gene has been found in MRSA bacteria and helps bacteria resist seven classes of antibiotics. This gene is a very powerful ally to the bacteria! It is unknown whether S. sciuri obtained the gene from another bacteria or whether the cfr gene was original to the bacteria and may have acquired mutations that permitted it to still perform the function of methylation but in a way that allowed the bacteria to resist antibiotics. Either way, it is clearly not the evolution of a new gene from “scratch.” Rather, it is the modification of a current gene that is beneficial to the bacteria in the presence of antibiotics.

The scientist involved in the study stated, “What we’ve discovered here is so exciting because it represents a truly new chemical mechanism for methylation. We now have a very clear chemical picture of a very clever mechanism for antibiotic resistance that some bacteria have evolved.” Although the bacteria are obviously not “clever,” God in His infinite wisdom and grace designed bacteria with amazing mechanisms to allow them to adapt in a post-Fall world (see this article for more information). If the scientist by using the word evolved means “change,” then yes the bacteria have changed, but they have not evolved new genes that would help them evolve from a microbe into a man.


[1] Bacteria have evolved a unique chemical mechanism to become antibiotic-resistant, April 28, 2011, Physorg.com, http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-04-bacteria-evolved-unique-chemical-mechanism.html.