Wednesday December 19, 2018

Antibiotic Resistance Spreads From Animals To Humans At Faster Pace

Even Colistin is losing its potency against so-called "superbugs".

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Antibiotic
Chinese researchers identify potential new antibiotic. Pixabay
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Scientists have expressed shock at the speed at which resistance to powerful antibiotics spreads from animals to humans, as new research has shown how genetic mutations in pathogens likely spread from a pig farm in China to affect human and animal species across the world in the space of just a few years.

The antibiotic Colistin is known as a medicine of “last resort,” used to save people’s lives when all other drugs have failed. Lead researcher Professor Francois Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London says it has become an important last line of defense as other antibiotics have become less effective.

“It was used a bit in the clinic. And then there were some worries about toxicity and side-effects. And it was mostly used in agriculture then, in pigs and a bit in chickens. But recently, as we are running out of drugs, people actually have become a bit more interested in using it, and it has been used quite extensively recently over the last five to 10 years in the clinic,” says Balloux.

Now even Colistin is losing its potency against so-called “superbugs”.

Fast mutation

Deadly pathogens like E. Coli or salmonella can mutate and develop resistance to antibiotics. Balloux’s research identifies the speed at which the mutant gene that gives resistance to Colistin emerged in the mid-2000s.

“It was a single mergence, it happened only once. And it jumped very, very likely from pigs, probably in China, and it spread extremely rapidly throughout the world. And it also spread in all sorts of different species, and affects humans. So now we find it in in many of the most important pathogens we face in hospitals. And it is absolutely everywhere,” Balloux told VOA.

The resistance has even been found in pathogens in the seawater on Brazilian beaches. Balloux notes his study focused on just one resistant gene, but many pathogens are developing other forms of resistance.

 

Britain’s chief medical officer warned recently that anti-microbial resistance could lead to the “end of modern medicine.”

“Think about common operations, caesarean sections, replacement hips. Those would become much more risky if we did not have effective antibiotics. Superbugs kill and they’re on the rise,” Professor Sally Davies told delegates at an October conference on anti-microbial resistance in Germany.

Scientists are working on “boosting” existing drugs like Colistin to give them added power against resistant pathogens.

Also Read: Antibiotics in puget sound mussels

Longer-term, researchers say more investment is needed in developing new drugs, along with a rethink of the way antibiotics are used in agriculture and in the clinic. (VOA)

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Old Dusty Kilogram Swapped for Something More Stable: Scientists

It has taken years of work to fine-tune the new definition to ensure the switchover will be smooth.

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Kilogram
The International Prototype of the Kilogram (IPK) is pictured in Paris, France, in this undated photo obtained from social media. VOA

After years of nursing a sometimes dusty cylinder of metal in a vault outside Paris as the global reference for modern mass, scientists are updating the definition of the kilogram.

Just as the redefinition of the second in 1967 helped to ease communication across the world via technologies like GPS and the internet, experts say the change in the kilogram will be better for technology, retail and health — though it probably won’t change the price of fish much.

The kilogram has been defined since 1889 by a shiny piece of platinum-iridium held in Paris. All modern mass measurements are traceable back to it — from micrograms of pharmaceutical medicines to kilos of apples and pears and tons of steel or cement.

kilogram, weight
Border Security Force officials showing 17 kilogram heroine.

The problem is, the “international prototype kilogram” doesn’t always weigh the same. Even inside its three glass bell jars, it gets dusty and dirty, and is affected by the atmosphere. Sometimes, it really needs a wash.

“We live in a modern world. There are pollutants in the atmosphere that can stick to the mass,” said Ian Robinson, a specialist in the engineering, materials and electrical science department at Britain’s National Physical Laboratory.

“So when you just get it out of the vault, it’s slightly dirty. But the whole process of cleaning or handling or using the mass can change its mass. So it’s not the best way, perhaps, of defining mass.”

What’s needed is something more constant.

kilogram, weight
The Kilogram. Flickr

So, at the end of a week-long meeting in the Palace of Versailles, Paris, the world’s leading measurement aficionados at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures will vote Friday to make an “electronic kilogram” the new baseline measure of mass.

Just as the meter — once the length of a bar of platinum-iridium, also kept in Paris — is now defined by the constant speed of light in a vacuum, so a kilogram will be defined by a tiny but immutable fundamental value called the “Planck constant.”

The new definition involves an apparatus called the Kibble balance, which makes use of the constant to measure the mass of an object using a precisely measured electromagnetic force.

Paris,diesel,kilogram, weight
The kilogram has been defined since 1889 by a shiny piece of platinum-iridium held in Paris.VOA

“In the present system, you have to relate small masses to large masses by subdivision. That’s very difficult — and the uncertainties build up very, very quickly,” Robinson said.

“One of the things this [new] technique allows us to do is to actually measure mass directly at whatever scale we like, and that’s a big step forward.”

Also Read: NASA to Send Organ-on-Chips to Test Human Tissue Health in Space

He said it had taken years of work to fine-tune the new definition to ensure the switchover will be smooth.

But while the extra accuracy will be a boon to scientists, Robinson said that, for the average consumer buying flour or bananas, “there will be absolutely no change whatsoever.” (VOA)