Bacterial Butterfly Effect

SynCell News • October 22, 2020

In chaos theory, there is a dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in significant differences in a later state. This effect is known as the butterfly effect, a theory that finds existence in the macroscopic universe but craves reality in the microscopic world.

Hospitals, sewers, wild animals, parks that sit in the bus, the handler in the subway, the dog of the neighborhood, or that piece of meat that will make a perfect dinner tonight. All those places and objects have anything in common, but one thing: they show the presence of antibiotic resistance genes due to exposure to human activity.

Now, how is it possible that we found genes that allow bacteria to survive to the presence of antibiotics in places that have not had exposure to human antibiotic use? For instance, how likely is it to find these genes in the deepest part of a remote forest or on the floor of an estuary in a faraway country?

How likely is to find antibiotic resistance in somewhere never exposed to antibiotics? 

Bacteria are everywhere, and we know that. What indeed becomes hard to believe is that the same genes found in bacterial strains exposed continuously to antibiotics in a crowded hospital are also present in those living in unaltered natural reservoirs where human presence is low.

A recent article published in PNAS has explored this behavior, trying to answer the constant increase in resistance burden that the world is foreseen. The answer is horizontal gene transfer, added to natural conditions such as wind, water, or animals/human movement. When bacteria (and their DNA) are transported by these means, horizontal gene transfer happens, and the problem becomes significantly terrifying.

As such, the use of antibiotics on a farm in the countryside of Kazakhstan can lead to antibiotic resistance spread in the playground where your children play every Sunday. Those genes do not just give resistance to the bacteria to which you will be exposed but allow them to recombine into new and potentially even more dangerous combinations that can spread.

Those genes do not provide any kind of protection or advantage to bacteria that are not exposed to a human. Then, why do they keep them? The answer is still unclear, but the consequence is crystalline. Those bacteria have the means to destroy our most advanced antimicrobial weapon to date without needing exposure to it.

Because of this, and whatever might happen soon, the world needs new and alternative solutions to the current use of antibiotics, such as the ones that are being produced by SynCell Biotechnology, that are potentially able to overcome resistance and give humanity the chance to fight for a brighter future that we all deserve.