How We Can Finally Start Outsmarting Single-Cell Attackers – Facts So Romantic

Imagine you are a bacterium, roughly 1/1,700,000 of your current size, residing in your own human body’s gut. You live in a diverse community, the “microbiome,” teeming with other bacteria: friendly neighbors who live next door, some ne’erdowells who occasionally vandalize the town, and your neighborhood cops who try to keep everything in check. The overall health of this community directly affects the health of the person that you live in.

As a bacterium, you are affected by what your host eats, what chemicals are in their environment, even what your host’s mother ate when she was pregnant. As is typical of bacteria, you often swap genes with your neighbors. On occasion, your host gets sick. She takes an antibiotic and many individuals in the community are killed, including both vandals and cops, but you are lucky to have picked up some genes that allow you to survive. Over time, the vandals also pick up some antibiotic-resistant genes. If there aren’t enough cops or other bacteria around to compete with these hardened bad guys and keep their numbers down, they can dig in and cause a potentially fatal antibiotic-resistant disease.

In May 2014, the World Health Organization reported that antibiotic resistance…
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