Antibiotics vs. bacteria: evolution and resistance illustration

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Antibiotic: a substance that weakens or destroys bacteria.

Antibiotic resistant: when a group of bacteria can no longer be harmed or killed by a certain antibiotic......more

Immunostimulant: a drug or nutrient that increases immune function......more

Strain: a group of organisms that differ genetically from another group of organisms in the same species... more

Vaccine: a substance that provides immune memory using antigens, or dead or weak viruses or bacteria, instead of from an infection.

Battling Antibiotic Resistance

Although there are many more antibiotics available today than there were 50 years ago, there are also many new strains of bacteria that are not affected by them. We are constantly trying to develop new drugs, and new strategies of giving them to sick individuals to prevent the development of resistance in bacteria.

If we are to have a chance in the evolutionary battle between antibiotics and bacteria, we should keep a few things in mind.

  1. CDC poster warning against overuse of antibiotics

    Antibiotics are commonly taken for viruses, but should only be used for bacteria. Click to enlarge.

    Antibiotics should be used wisely. Currently, antibiotics aren’t just prescribed by doctors. Antibiotics are given to livestock (like cattle, pigs, and chickens) as preventative treatment or to increase growth. While the use of antibiotics in food is not directly linked to antibiotic resistance in bacteria that pose medical problems for humans, researchers are beginning to learn that antibiotics in the waste system can cause selection for resistant bacteria in other ways. We don’t fully understand the effects of antibiotics on bacterial evolution in the various environments in which we use antibiotics—including in the human body, in livestock, in our sewers, and in other reservoirs. Until we have a better understanding of this, we should limit the use and waste of antibiotics as much as possible. As a part of using antibiotics more wisely, we should also be more careful to care for our own scratches or other wounds to try to prevent infection, and to be careful with the food we eat. If we can prevent infection in the first place, we can reduce the number of times we rely on antibiotic treatment throughout our lives.
  2. We should increase research into the production of new antibiotics and use of old antibiotics. Medicine development is often slow and antibiotics are sometimes developed for specific bacteria strains and aren’t well tested on how they work on other bacteria. We need to learn more about how these medications can be used. In the past, we have also relied a lot on a few specific antibiotics, especially early on (penicillin, for example). If we have a broader range of antibiotics that work in different ways, we can reduce our reliance on a few specific antibiotics. This would give us more medical weapons to fight bacteria, and reduce the chances that antibiotic resistance would turn into a widespread problem.
  3. Typhoid vaccine

    Vaccines have also been developed that can prevent bacterial infection, such as this vaccine against Typhoid, an infection due to a type of Salmonella bacteria. Image by Kristoferb.

    We should increase research into alternatives to antibiotics. Antibiotics are not the only way that we can fight bacteria, but they do seem to have one of the greatest effects on bacterial evolution. This means antibiotics seem to cause resistance more quickly than other treatment options, like vaccines or other immunostimulants. If we are able to develop preventative vaccines or otherwise increase our immune responses against infections, we may be able to reduce our dependence on antibiotics.

With all of these approaches to helping the problem of antibiotic resistance, the most important thing is to spread factual knowledge about antibiotic resistance. We can help with this problem by making sure we are educated on how we can prevent the overuse of antibiotics in our own lives, and make choices that help with this issue. It is also important that we have more scientists interested in studying bacteria and immune function, so that we can continue to come up with new strategies in the evolutionary battle between antibiotics and bacteria.

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Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Battling Antibiotic Resistance
  • Author(s): Tyler Quigley
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: July 18, 2017
  • Date accessed: March 18, 2023
  • Link:

APA Style

Tyler Quigley. (2017, July 18). Battling Antibiotic Resistance. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved March 18, 2023 from

American Psychological Association. For more info, see

Chicago Manual of Style

Tyler Quigley. "Battling Antibiotic Resistance". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 18 July, 2017.

MLA 2017 Style

Tyler Quigley. "Battling Antibiotic Resistance". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 18 Jul 2017. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 18 Mar 2023.

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see

Part of preventing antibiotic resistance involves being careful about what medicines you take into your body and what enters our waste systems.

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