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ntibiotics are failing us on a catastrophic scale. Once a magic bullet against infectious diseases, they’ve grown increasingly impotent as bacteria have evolved resistance. An estimated 700,000 people die each year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and within a few decades, that toll may rise to several million.

Yet this catastrophe is strangely invisible. You can’t see the onslaught of resistant bacteria advance on cities like a forest fire. Their victims don’t die on a battlefield, instead quietly expiring in hospital rooms. This invisibility makes it hard for scientists to monitor antibiotic resistance, and it also makes it difficult to motivate people to do something about the problem.

Roy Kishony, a biologist at the Technion in Israel and a visiting professor at Harvard Medical School, and his colleagues Michael Baym and Tami Lieberman, have found a way to make this catastrophe astonishingly visible. They’ve built a gigantic variation of a Petri dish, which they call the MEGA (Microbial Evolution and Growth Arena) plate, where you can observe the evolution of antibiotic resistance in a series of bursting waves. It’s so eminently viewable, in fact, that the MEGA plate video has been watched almost 25 million times since it was posted online in September.

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In this episode of “Science Happens!”, Kishony and his colleagues build a MEGA plate for us and let us see how they make an invisible catastrophe visible. In the process, they are also learning lessons about the evolution of antibiotic resistance that they hope will help in the vital struggle to keep these drugs effective.

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  • Thanks for the article – a grim warning!
    To whoever produces such videos: the background music is loo loud for persons who are hard of hearing. It destroys the clarity of the spoken word, and makes listening a strain.

  • This article is exaggerating the problem in the USA, I smell a liberal looking for grants (good luck in the trump era.) Let India and the other muslim countries spend their billions on research, since they are accelerating the problem.

  • There is a way to heal humans without antibiotics, when you learn how you are cancer, cholesterol, diabetes and arthritis free, its like a famous gentleman once said “when you find the cure for cancer, you have found the cure for all human ailments”…

    David Charles Kao..

    • Most people know now that the majority or ailments are prevented by common sense – eat right, sleep exercise, drink water (a big one!) and even aspirin can be more beneficial than supporting big pharma or the ACA.

  • Great experiment. Time to go 2D – add a second variable in the direction normal to the concentration gradient. Now what is the best second variable? Probably some agar nutrient. Track 2D time variation of bacteria + nutrient levels in agar. Hey, I volunteer to be your Post Doc for this one!

    • Yes! and since your so rich and successful, you can put up your own funds to finance the research. That was the original intention of paying doctors so much it collapses our economies and creates abominations like the ACA.

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