I

n the ongoing battle between humans and harmful bacteria, those wily bugs are gaining the upper hand.

In the last few months, scientists have reported finding E. coli that are resistant to colistin, a last-resort antibiotic, twice in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recently reported that Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes the sexually transmitted disease, might soon be untreatable.

Superbugs are bacteria that are resistant to many antibiotics in our arsenal, making it difficult and costly to treat diseases that were previously cured by a regimen of pills. Some bacterial strains, such as Clostridium difficile and MRSA, are resistant to most, if not all, available antibiotics.

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But how do they do they survive the barrage of antibiotics that we constantly shoot their way?

The answer lies in tiny changes to their DNA. These small mutations can upgrade their defenses, giving them better shields or allowing them to make weapons that can break down antibiotics. And if we keep giving the bugs opportunities to evolve resistance by using antibiotics against them without restraint, superbugs may well become invincible one day.

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