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Attack of the Super Bugs

Attack of the Super Bugs

What potential disasters keep you up at night? Meteor strikes? Super Volcanos? World War Three? World war Z? Those are all pretty scary and we didn’t even mention climate change but there’s one other immediate terrifying, scientific problem that rises above the rest… Superbugs I’m not talking about giant spiders of Mirkwood or tracker jackers. I’m talking about antibiotic resistant bacteria. Which by the way are everywhere. Antibiotics are pretty incredible. Since the discovery of penicillin they have extended the average human life by about 10 years. A good percentage of the people watching this right now are only alive today because at some point an antibiotic saved their life. But we’re facing a little bit of a crisis. Antibiotics are starting to loose their effectiveness as bacteria continue to outsmart our technology. And I don’t wanna make you too paranoid here, but the consequences could be big. Remember that little thing called the black death – a pandemic that ravaged Europe and Asia in the 1300s, killing about, meh, 25 mln people. That wouldn’t have happened if antibiotics were a thing back then, but if our drugs stop working now, could it happen again? The US Centers for Disease Control estimates that 23,000 American died in 2012 from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And the World Health Organization says that in 2010 about half a million people were infected with a resistant strain of tuberculosis, a third of whom died. A post-antibiotic era could essentially mean the end of modern medicine and suddenly a simple operation, sinus infection or a scraped knee could once again have the potential to kill. Now, I’m not saying you should be worried about this. Actually, yeah, I’m saying you should be worried about this. When Scottish physician Alexander Fleming got out of bed one September morning in 1928 he had no idea that he was about to change the world. Fleming had seen countless soldiers die from infected wounds and since the 1st World War ended, he’d been working hard to find better antibacterial agents. He was a good guy and a good scientist, but he was also a bit of a slob. So that morning he was straightening a stack of Petri dishes, where he’d been growing a staphylococcus bacteria, when he noticed mold in one of the dishes. Now, his lab was messy enough that that wasn’t that weird, but what caught his eye was that all around the mold the bacteria was dead. He later identified that mold as penicillium notatum. Years of experimentation followed and after enlisting the help of researchers Howard Florey and Ernst Chain the team figured out how to grow and use the fungus to treat bacterial infections. Mass production began during World War II and by D-Day in 1944 all allied soldiers had penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic. For their work Fleming, Florey and Chain were awarded the Nobel Prize. And, for the next 50 years, or so, antibiotics were unbeatable, saving lives left and right. But lately they’ve struggled to perform as well as they used to. Before we talk about exactly what antibiotics are and how they work, you have to understand what they’re up against. Bacteria!!!! Take a look around your room. Everything, your chair, your sandwich, your dog, your body – inside and out – it’s all covered in millions and millions of different single-celled bacteria. They can pretty much survive anywhere. Even in radioactive waste and in the absence of light and oxygen. But unlike viruses, which need a host cell to reproduce and survive, bacteria can thrive everywhere, because they can share their genetic material with each other. This is the key to their evolving resistance to antibiotics. While some bacteria have genes that make them resistant to like heat, so they can live in boiling water, other bacteria may be resistant to penicillin and both kinds can share what they know. We get our genes from our parents and what we’re born with we’re stuck with our whole lives. Bacteria, however, like to do things a little differently. They don’t to use traditional reproduction to pass their genes along. They can use something called horizontal gene transfer to swap genetic information, like you swap Pokemon cards. And one of the best ways bacteria acquire new genes is to loot their neighbors’ body when they degrade and die. This process is known as transformation, although some pathologists have dubbed it “the funeral grab”. It happens when bacteria are in a special physiological state called competence, during which they can scavenge bits of foreign DNA from their environment. So say Bobby bacterium dies and then Benny bacterium creeps up and grabs whatever genes it wants. So if Bobby was resistant to cold and Benny grabbed that gene, now Benny is suddenly cold resistant. And if Bobby was resistant to a certain antibiotic, boom, now Benny is too. Another way bacteria exchange genetic materials is by passing viruses, also known as transduction. Viruses can infect bacteria just like any other organism and because viruses are just bits of RNA or DNA, they can jump into a bacterium, latch onto some genes and then jump to a different bacterium, transferring those genes in the process. So that’s like I caught the flu from you and with it I got your mother’s eyes. The third way bacteria exchange traits is through conjugation, which is kind of like sex. So let’s say Bobby and Benny E. coli are feeling frisky and Bobby builds a gene passing connection over to Benny and when they break apart Benny can now do something that only Bobby could do before. So you see where this is going. A particular strain of bacteria could suddenly become resistant to an antibiotic by catching a virus, robbing a dead friend or by having sex with a live one. And just like the evolution of any other organism the bacteria that acquire the toughest, most resistant traits become more fit, more adaptable to a range of environments, and are thus more likely to survive and thrive. So in a way the superbug phenomenon, that’s going on right now, is kind of like watching natural selection played out in fast-forward, which is cool and scary. But now you have a sense of how high the stakes would be if say a resistant strain of the plague started moving around the globe. But luckily, for the last 70 years, or so, we’ve had antibiotics, also called antimicrobials or antibacterials. And they work by either destroying the bacteria or slowing their growth enough that the human body’s own immune system can finish the job. Basically an antibiotic is a selective poison designed to find, bind and kill bacteria, without damaging their host cells in your body. These drugs usually work by attacking a unique bacterial target, like a particular protein, or a bacterial process, like the way they build a cell wall or metabolise sugar. For example most bacteria build their cell wall using a specific combination of sugars and amino acids, a combination that our cells don’t use. So antibiotics like penicillin block the production of that material, so the bacteria’s wall is weakened and bursts. Other antibiotics may attack bacteria’s metabolic pathways. All cells require folic acid, aka vitamin B9, to function. This vitamin easily passes into human cells, but it can’t enter bacterial cells. So bacteria have to make their own. The sulfa family of antibiotics, made from a sulphur compound, works by disrupting the production of this vitamin, thus inhibiting their growth. And then there’s tetracycline, which combats infection by attacking how bacteria make protein. Tetracycline can get through bacterial membranes and disrupt protein production, enough to inhibit cell growth, while human cells remain safe. But as amazing as antibiotics are, they’ve got a really smart enemy and bacteria have a few effective ways of wriggling out of the crosshair. For one, some bacteria can basically just barf up the antibiotic when it gets inside it’s cell. They use their chemical energy to fuel what are essentially pumps that spit the antibiotics right back out of the cell, before it can do any harm. They may also get kind of sneaky and change the drugs target, so that the antibiotic can’t find what it’s supposed to destroy, because many antibiotics work only in a very specific molecule. If a bacterium can replace that molecule or rearrange it’s structure, that antibiotic can’t do it’s job. Bacteria can also go on the offensive and basically make a weapon that looks for and breaks down antibiotics. For example, some strains can produce enzymes that destroy penicillin by breaking open the compound that’s basically it’s active ingredient. And, of course, once a bacterium has figured out a good resistance it can pass that information along to it’s neighbors, through sex or viruses or pilfering and then it’s on to other human and animal hosts who travel all over the globe by land sea and air. And then it’s “goodbye drugs – hello plague”. So now you might be wondering – well, can’t we just develop new antibiotics? Well, we’ve already gone after bacteria’s most obvious targets. And what’s left are increasingly difficult alternatives. Basically, new classes of antibiotics will be a lot harder to discover and develop. We’re probably not gonna find them in a moldy lunch box. However, researchers at Oregon state university and other institutions around the world are working on a promising new antibacterial agent, called PPMOs. Lab studies have shown, that one type of PPMO has been really effective at controlling some kind of bacteria that I can’t pronounce. Which happens to be responsible for a lot of hospital infections. PPMOs are lab synthesized analogs of DNA or RNA. They target a bacterium’s genes, instead of just disrupting it’s cellular function. Although they haven’t been tested on humans yet, PPMOs may offer a totally different approach to fighting bacterial infections and possibly even other diseases with genetic components. Other researchers are looking at fighting superbugs with viruses. Bacteriophages are viruses that infect and destroy bacteria and spread to other bacteria. These phages are naturally occurring and can be found all over the place, including soil, river water and the human body. Each phage is specific to a particular type of bacteria and needs the proper host to multiply. The more targets it has, the faster the virus spreads and kills, making it especially effective against high concentrations of bacteria or chronic infections. You only need a tiny bit of the virus, which can be administered through a cream or a spray. And, so far, they don’t seem to infect human cells and they haven’t contributed to antibiotic resistance. So even though the risk of superbugs taking over the world is real and scary, we do have some reasons to be hopeful. And, in the meantime, there are some things you can do to help. First, it’s important to understand when you should and shouldn’t use anitbiotics. You don’t wanna gobble them up every time you feel kind of poopy. You might have a virus and antibiotics won’t help that. Antibiotics should be a last resort reserved for serious infections, when other treatments haven’t worked. And if you do need them, make sure you take them exactly as prescribed until the bottle is empty. Stopping early only makes the surviving bacteria stronger. Likewise, never take antibiotics without a prescription. No passing along left-over medication. And of course make sure you wash your hands, use soap, get vaccinated. If you prevent illness, you prevent the need for medications in the first place. The future peoples of earth will thank you. Thank you for watching this SciShow infusion, especially to our Subbable subscribers who keep these episodes coming. If you’d like a little bit of SciShow for yourself, like a SciShow tie or a chocolate bar, you can go to to learn more. And if you have any questions or ideas for an episode you’d like to see, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter and as always in the comments below. If you wanna keep getting smarter with us you can go to and subscribe.


Look man I don't understand there is no cure for viruses right but there is for bacteria but when it it becomes a super bugs isn't it just a better virus

Can i just say I'm weirdly happy you made the hypothetical bacteria gay? it's a strangely endearing place to find my own representation lol

I read recently that climate change may result in the release of ancient bacteria that is human compatible. In the book "Timeline" by Michael Chrichton he mentions that travelling to the past so far back could actually kill you and that travelers would need to train their immune system prior to going… interesting stuff.

i carry mrsa so i know the struggle and am i the only that is reminded of a certain kids spy show when i see those phage..

I would predict that a logical solution to this is to breed Penicilium Notatum, around drug resistant bacteria and allow the mold to evolve the tools with which we could then fight the bacterial infections that plague us: evolutionary antibiotics, any thoughts?

because of China (feeding the pigs the strongest antibiotic) and the us where ppl don't take antibiotics until the end and they are prescribed like ppl eat candy

Lots of really good information, very well presented! This is great. The narrator's lisp was a little distracting but he did a great job otherwise.

Being so small is almost unfair, it's like a supermarket for biological upgrades, oh let me get that penicillin resistance gene.

Welp, I'm sufficiently terrified. Thaaaaaanks.

But I know we'll figure something out before the worst happens. Bacteria are smart, but we're smarter.

That last bit at the end (about making sure to get vaccinated to prevent having to use drugs in the first place) scares the shit out of me. The anti-vaxxer movement may result in a strain of the Measles virus that is so different from the one the vaccine was made for that NO ONE's immune system can detect and destroy it quickly enough to prevent the disease. Measles, being one of the most ridiculously contagious viruses ever discovered, would then spread everywhere. Wow.

Everyone can help. The first thing is to stop buying anti-bacterial household products and soaps. These are not necessary unless your doctor says they're necessary. Simple soap is, in tests, more effective, anyway. Some of the active ingredients in these products is very similar to one of the main drugs used to treat tuberculosis. As a consequence, this very valuable drug, is becoming less effective. The rise of TB, once more, because silly people think that it's a good idea to use bactericidal soap.

Surprise there wasn't much mention of one of the biggest contributors to antibiotic resistance – the animal agricultural industry.

what's up with the "HEY, look at me" strip of color in your hair. I could see it in a teenager but, close to or in your 30's ?? smh

I have a suggestion for science just make nanobots that inject chemicals into bacteria that gives the bacteria some kind of disease could be cancer (though only for last resort) or a toxin that humans can resist because of modifying dna that breaks down the bacteria parts that keep it alive. the only way for humans to be saved from microbes is an altered Gene pool once I experience the apocalyspe alive and well the peers I would once have would have died for not being crafty like the people from the days of Egypt as well as other ancient civilizations. Now a days​ the human is too ignorant because of the technology they are exposed to. It makes them the opposite of productive and (I'm sorry to say this but I have to) ignorant it's why America is the worst country to live for the apocalyspe because Americans are the most lazy and are not good learners. if they don't learn nowadays they will die because it has been 103 million years since a catastrophe. nature, maybe even God has reset Earth to develope once more. The apocalyspe is as due as the time clock for WWIII because of corruption and the free will of creatures such as humans allowing Satan's seeds to spread. Quote my name is a riddle for the Aura and the shine of silver with the orcalthium armor. the being I am is not to be known as the world seeks I am as such. a former human given a job from God's holy sanctum I am a beast in the shape of a human. A beast that is Merely known in myth as the golden guardian of Anubis however I don't serve him he is a demon as well as all polytheistic gods to be given shape. I now worship the one Golden God the Father of Christ
I am not human remember. I am merely a jackal in the shape of an human because you need a disguise when you were supposed to be born a sub-human knoledge able being which is what the humans will call me because they are destructive and racist indeed for they seemingly calm nature which is decieving

I smell a shill of the hospital… A video on superbugs and you don't mention that most of them originate from hospitals. One of the main reasons for this is the non-stop use of antibiotic hand soap, as this is the perfect location where the weakest are killed off immediately and only the very strong survive and are constantly being tested and forced to grow stronger. Another major issue is the over prescription of antibiotics by doctors not knowing what the real issue is and handing out antibiotics to protect themselves in case antibiotics are required and to make the patient feel like the doctor is actually doing something to help instead of just telling them to get the rest they need if they only have a virus.

As a Scot I accept your thanks on behalf of Flemming-and your welcome for all the other wonderful things our tiny country has given you 😉

More evidence that we should put greater focus into genetics.
Also, not trying to get too conspiracy theory-y, but if we spent more resources on medical research and less on finding out what Billy-Bob from the trailer park likes to beat his meat to, we might have made more progress.
Just a theory.

I want Hank! Despite his incredibly strange way of annunciating things this blink 182 guy and the Big Bang theory girl isn’t as fun. Sorry. Love the channel though, I still watch all the videos.

Ya thats all true but during the pluage we didnt know anything about germs now we do we have better sanitation, more effective treatments, vaccines, and saffer food and water.

I have a question, what if we take mold and attack it with more powerfull bactreria thus making mold search for solution

Apparently in india they are already using antibiotics of last resort without medical supervision for increasing profits breeding chickens.
What's interesting is that if we stopped using antibiotics on livestock the bacteria would probably quickly loose their ability to resist antibiotics again.

Hey I actually got an idea from a book series. Since antibiotics are/were becoming less effective, instead of creating ones for specific infections, why not create a drug that will make the human body more resilient?

The simile of bacteria playing with Pokemon cards made me laugh.
"Hey do you have able to survive without oxygen"
"Ya what do you have to trade"
"How about surviving in radioactive waste"
"Throw in extreme heat and you've got yourself a deal"

How dare you use two male bacteria as examples of procreation! The bible clearly says Adam and Eve. Not Adam and Steve!!! Lol

This is a serious problem. I've unfortunately had to have a catheter put in and with that comes bacterial infections. A few months ago I got a resistant strain that required a PIC line to be put in to my heart and I had to give myself 2 grams of antibiotics daily through this like for 2 weeks. The lab result was this particular bacteria was only affected by two antibiotics, fortunately the first one worked. It's a real scary thought getting infected and realizing you have no option to treat it. There are bacteria out there that are resistant to all of our antibiotics. There needs to be more research done to find different antibiotics problem is for the companies these aren't real money makers. I wouldn't be surprised if we have a epidemic of a resistant bacteria in the next 50 years.

We may have discovered an answer to super bugs. Bacterial phages, which are viruses that only infect bacteria, in fact they are chemically and structurally incable of infect animal cells, let alone human ones. Now here is the part that's most important, the way superbugs become resistant to antibiotics, make them more susceptible to phages. In India a man dying of MRSA was given the phage for the bacteria and antibiotics. With the hope the phages would weaken the infection enough to let the antibiotics work, well that's not what happen. Instead the bacteria started becoming resistant to the phages and almost immediately lost their resistance to not just the strongest most advanced antibiotics but to the oldest and simplest ones too. It turned out that even superbugs use the same systems that they use to resist phages, to resist antibiotics, so as they get better at resisting the viral infection they become worse at resist antibiotics. But the system is physically incapable of doing both, to do so would require the bacteria to evolve or adapt into a much more complex organism, which it can't do in matter of days and even if could, then it would most likely either lose its ability to harm humans, resist the immune system or even surviving in the human body. That man in India went from a week to live, to leaving the hospital in less than a moth later and showing no signs he was ever infected by a superbug. Now the hardest part of this treatment is dosing a patient in time (ie before catastrophic damage occurs) and with enough phages to kill or change the infection.

GP's don't help – they just give in when someone asks for antibiotics. Also, I had a dog bite last year. They cleaned the wound very thoroughly and then prescribe antibiotics "just in case…". They are so scared of sepsis that they just throw antibiotics at you before you even develop sepsis.

Bacteria are occasionally useful douche-bags
that MOOCH the body's resources,
like the roommate that steals your sandwiches.

We're going to have to start researching to figure out how to make more advanced vaccines. When the post-antibiotic era comes around, our only hope is that we a have a lot of different vaccines for bacteria. We only have a few vaccines that protect against bacteria.

Colloidal silver eats superbugs for lunch. Scientific studies prove it. It's the most antimicrobial substance known to. It's antiviral antibacterial anti fungus. The best product to buy is sovereign silver because it is the smallest particle size, .8 nanometers and the purest silver 99.999 percent and pharmaceutical grade water when talking about purity here. Colloidal silver has multiple ways of action like binding to the DNA or Rna and bacteria it stops respiration also steals an electron, where as antibiotics only had one mode of action. They also destroy your gut, but colloidal silver has no gut damage even 2000 times the reference dose.

5 years later, this problem is getting worse. Drug resistant bacteria kill over 700,000 people per year and this number could rise to as high as 10 million by 2050! This year, the WHO listed antimicrobial resistance as one of the top 10 health threats facing the world.

I'm still lost but….would the gases in the wounds environment effect the the infected area?
E.g say would a "suction cup (idk or body suit)" full of nitroge or carben, oxygen changer the rate of necrotic tssue development or recession (if thats the word)inrelation to the bacterea?

Wait, are bacteria legit smart and know which genes are good for them to loot or do they just grab random genes if dead things and hope they’re good. The video implies the former, but if that’s right, how do they tell which genes are good, especially if they’ve never seen that gene before?

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