The Loh Down On Science

Antibiotic resistance is older than you thought

Humans versus bacteria—who will win in the end? 

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with The Loh Down on Science, saying, the answer may lie not in the future, but in the distant past. 

But let's start in the present, where scientists have been studying beta-lactamases.  These are harmful proteins that break down the vital molecules in antibiotics.  Bacteria that have beta-lactamases tend to be antibiotic resistant.

The scientists compared beta-lactamase DNA for dozens of bacterial species.  From this, they were able to build a beta-lactamase family tree.   It showed that the ancestors of today's proteins go back two- to three-billion years!   By comparison, humankind has only been around a million or so years.

Armed with the likely DNA sequences of these ancient ancestors, the team then recreated those original proteins in the lab!

The point?  Scientists may figure out how beta-lactamases evolved the ability to resist antibiotics in the first place.
 
And that might lead to new ways to combat antibiotic resistance.  And to create a very very tiny version of Jurassic Park.   Very very tiny.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

Thursday, from 2-3 p.m. on the LDOS blog: Sandra chats with author Nathanael Johnson about his book All Natural.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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