The Fight Against Superbugs

By: Julia Paiva, SPECTRUM Writer

download          Many individuals develop phobias  toward insects, whether it be the black widow spiders found in UTSC labs, or the pesky bugs lurking within cottages. But perhaps the most fearsome type of bugs are found at the microscopic level, the kind that are resilient against human interference– Superbugs.  These dangerous forms of bacteria are  resistant to available antibiotics, such as penicillin.  Superbugs are widely studied, as they pose a serious threat to global health.  But how can bacteria develop this resistance, and how do we minimize the odds of this happening within our body?


How do Antibiotics work?

      Antibiotics target bacterial physiology along with their biochemical components. They can work in two ways: either by causing complete destruction of a microbial cell, or by major alterations  of the cell structure that renders it incapable of reproduction (Wright, 2010). Antibiotics are unique to other treatments, in the sense that they incite an arms race between bacteria that evade destruction, and the researchers who predict the best ways to prevent this.


How Does Resistance Occur?

       Resistance can develop through a few different pathways. Antibiotics act as a selection pressure, and if antibiotics are not taken to their recommended doses, bacteria with resistance are left to breed (Davies & Davies, 2010). Through numerous growth cycles, antibiotic resistant bacteria are established. It is for this reason that physicians and agricultural companies alike have been encouraged to curb the use of antibiotics (Davies & Davies, 2010). As students who might find ourselves feeling sick during exam times, this may be the reason why doctors are hesitant to prescribe  antibiotics, especially during cold and flu prone seasons.


Research Fighting Resistance

       Antibiotics have had extremely positive effects since the creation of penicillin almost a century ago (Davies & Davies, 2010). Lives have been saved due to their creation, with penicillin being hailed as one of the most important discoveries in medicine. The complexity of this issue is why researchers have been striving to determine solutions to combat antibiotic resistance.


       At Monash University, researchers have uncovered how a potentially deadly superbug Staphylococcus aureus known as “Golden Staph” eludes antibiotics. Advanced electron microscopes were used to observe the changes superbugs undergo to resist antibiotics, compared to non-resistant strains (Wright, 2010). The group discovered that the bacteria mutate, altering the shape of the molecule that antibiotics would normally bind to.  With the altered conformation of the bacterial binding site, antibiotics would be unable to bind to the superbug, hence rendered useless.


       Although researchers have not yet discovered a definite way to prevent the development of superbugs , understanding how and where these mutations occur is considered the first step in providing effective treatments to patients for many years to come.




Monash University. (2017, May 16). Key to ‘superbug’ antibiotic resistance discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 5, 2017 from


Davies, J., & Davies, D. (2010). Origins and evolution of antibiotic resistance. Microbiology and molecular biology reviews74(3), 417-433.


Wright, G. D. (2010). Q&A: Antibiotic resistance: where does it come from and what can we do about it?. BMC biology8(1), 123.


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