These Germs Eat Antibiotics for Breakfast

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Harvard researchers have discovered hundreds of germs in soil that literally devour antibiotics, and thrive with the drugs as their sole source of nutrition.

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That bacteria can survive on strange “foods” is no surprise; some bacteria can break down oil spills, for instance. And it’s already known that soil bacteria can withstand some antibiotics.

However, what surprised researchers was that so many bacteria were able to not only survive, but flourish, when fed 18 different, common, antibiotics, some at levels 50 to 100 times higher than would be given to a human patient.

Now scientists are racing to figure out just how the bacteria devour antibiotics, since more dangerous germs that sicken people could potentially develop the same ability, and increase the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bugs.

One silver lining to the discovery, however, is that the germs help to prevent big antibiotic buildups in the soil, despite the widespread use of the drugs for livestock and humans.
ABC News April 3, 2008
Science April 4, 2008

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