Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The invincible strain of TB, and how antibiotics work

What is Tuberculosis?

TB is a bacteria infection which mainly targets the lungs in the area shown on the right and sometimes other areas, fairly common, it spreads through the air by coughing, sneezing etc and is dangerously contagious in third world crowded cities.

Symptoms are:

  • Chronic coughing
  • Bloody mucus
  • Fevers
  • Sweating at night
TB is often tied in with AIDS as the immune system is compromised and the bacteria takes advantage which makes matters even worse!

The Issue

Previously Tuberculosis or 'TB' was cured by administering antibiotics over an intense 6-9 month course. However recently in Mumbai, doctors have reported 12 cases of TB completely unaffected by antibiotics; 3 patients of which have already died.

As TB affects roughly 1 in 3 people worldwide, this is going to be a huge problem, totally antibiotic resistant strains means we have no means of helping people fight against their infection and many TB cases result in death.

How do antibiotics work?

Bacteria cells have a cell wall to protect against osmosis (the way which water absorbs). Inside the cell is all the stuff bacteria need to stay alive, so nucleus, ribosome's, cytoplasm, you know, the usual cell things. Anyway, when bacteria reproduce, the antibiotics intervene so that the new bacteria don't have cell walls. In turn, when water goes into the cell, there's no wall to protect it and the cell bursts, bye bye bacteria!

How bacteria become more and more resistant

Resistance to antibiotics is due to mutation, a mutation in the gene coincidently allows different proteins to form, and so happens this happens to be an enzyme which breaks down the antibiotic and stops it from killing the cell.

Bacteria can exchange this mutated gene with conjugation tubes (they basically prod the other bacteria with a tube and inject some genes into it), this is done in DNA in 2 ways, vertical gene transfer and horizontal gene transfer, vertical is basically like getting genes from your parents, in the same species. Horizontal is with different species, and so genes can cross bacteria species, like TB and Malaria.

This isn't good news as one bacteria can get different mutations from loads of other bacteria, in this case TB and now its super resistant :( much like MRSA.
We must be aware that this is not just an Indian strain issue, it is a worldwide problem. 

Here you can see the spiky species of bacteria 'prodding' the smooth and shaven bacteria
What we can do

Well, the only thing we can do is keep developing more antibiotics and keep hygienic. Until nanotechnology comes in and we invent supernanorobotwarriors which can fight TB. (by the way I'm not joking, it's going to happen!)

So until then ..Don't forget to wash your hands!

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