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Hardy Ancient Microbes

May 15, 2017

What helped certain kinds of bacteria survive through the ages and eventually thrive in hospitals?

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Hardened microbes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The same qualities that allowed common microbes called enterococci to successfully transition from sea to land with their animal hosts hundreds of millions of years ago and even survive mass extinctions may also be what has turned them into deadly, antibiotic-resistant superbugs in hospitals today. This according to a report in the journal Cell. Broad Institute microbiologist Ashlee Earl says unusually hard cell walls are one key to to the microbes’ tenacity.

ASHLEE EARL (Broad Institute):

The ability to withstand periods of drying out as well as starvation enabled them not only to adapt to life on land, but also to persist in hospital environments.

HIRSHON:

Earl says understanding what makes these bugs strong could help defeat them.

EARL:

The goal is to turn those strengths into weaknesses, to target these organisms therapeutically.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard