Podcast Transcript: Bacteria are amazingly adaptable. They live in hot springs, in the Dead Sea and, of course, inside people, where they can dish up some truly nasty diseases. Over the years many of these crafty critters have figured out how to dodge the antibiotics we use to kill them, usually by chewing the drugs up and spitting ‘em out. Now researchers from Harvard Medical School have figured out that in the soil, there are bacteria that are not only immune to our antibiotics—they eat antibiotics for breakfast. The discovery appears in the April 4 issue of Science.
The scientists collected a diverse sample of soils from cornfields, forests, swamps, even the Boston Public Garden. From this dirt they isolated hundreds of different bacteria that could grow in a broth that contained nothing to eat, except a great big helping of antibiotics. The fact that the ground is teeming with drug-munching bugs might seem surprising. But remember, most of our antibiotics come from organisms that live in the dirt, like molds and even other bacteria. With that kind of exposure, some bugs are bound to figure out how to turn these potential toxins into a tasty snack. The danger for us is that they’ll share these recipes with their disease-causing pals.