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  Table of Contents  
Year : 2011  |  Volume : 29  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 207-208

Antimicrobial resistance and extinction

Department of Microbiology, Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India

Date of Submission16-Jul-2011
Date of Acceptance18-Jul-2011
Date of Web Publication17-Aug-2011

Correspondence Address:
P Desikan
Department of Microbiology, Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0255-0857.83900

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How to cite this article:
Desikan P. Antimicrobial resistance and extinction. Indian J Med Microbiol 2011;29:207-8

How to cite this URL:
Desikan P. Antimicrobial resistance and extinction. Indian J Med Microbiol [serial online] 2011 [cited 2021 Jan 26];29:207-8. Available from:

If one ever felt lonely, it might help to remember the trillions of microbes that cohabit with us, in and on our bodies. It is truly strange how we take such non-intrusive, extremely adaptable, constant companions for granted. We notice them only when the renegades among them create trouble for us. Then, typically, just as we have dealt with every other species of living organisms on this planet, we aim for a complete destruction of all occupants of this ecological niche. Without a thought about the consequences, we attempt to annihilate not only the pathogens, but the hordes of normal, friendly bacteria that live with us.

The world is, and always has been, in a state of flux. The entire basis of organic evolution is underpinned by the appearance of some species and the disappearance of others. According to fossil records, no species has yet proved immortal; as few as 2%--4 % of the species that have ever lived are believed to survive today. The remainder are extinct, many having disappeared long before the arrival of humans. Extinctions caused by humans, however, are generally considered to be a recent, modern phenomenon. The rapid loss of species that we are witnessing today is estimated to be between 100 and 1000 times higher than the expected natural extinction rate. Unlike the mass extinction events of geological history, a single species-ours -appears to be almost wholly responsible for the current extinction phenomenon. This is now referred to as "the sixth extinction crisis", after the five known extinction waves in the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic and Cretaceous Periods. [1]

Living organisms keep our planet habitable, and enable us to survive as well. The normal flora in the human body is composed of highly complex communities of various microorganisms. Members of the bacterial community contribute to many aspects of intestinal tract development and provide metabolic contributions well in excess of the human genome. [2],[3],[4] In spite of all this, and in keeping with our collective character, we have indiscriminately tried to eliminate micro-organisms, irrespective of their role in causing disease. Our ill advised attempts at mass destruction of micro-organisms have led to the selection of particularly pathogenic and drug resistant organisms, which we are now unable to destroy.

The redoubtable evolutionary success of Homo sapiens has, so far, hinged on our capacity to destroy the competition for habitat and resources. In our driving need to survive and proliferate, we have actively destroyed many of nature's inbuilt networks for renewal of resources. As a result, the competition for survival has only become more intense. In this race for survival, we have obliterated many species of animals from the face of the earth. Humanity's first significant contribution to the rate of global extinction may have occurred during the past 100 000 years, when North and South America and Australia lost 74%--86% of the genera of "megafauna" - mammals greater than 44 kg. Over the last 500 years, our destructive capabilities have forced 844 species to extinction in the wild. [5] We have thus destroyed many of the natural hosts of many micro-organisms. The micro-organisms, in turn, now can only adapt themselves to the most populous and easily available hosts, which remain, the Homo sapiens. The process of their adaptation has now necessarily required development of antimicrobial resistance.

Quite obviously, antimicrobial resistance is a phenomenon that has reached pandemic proportions because it has been fuelled by human need, greed and irresponsibility. The result is a face off between Homo sapiens and an entire array of micro-organisms, be they bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. Though diminutive, micro-organisms are formidable foes. They have been around on this planet for much longer than we have, and have survived odds that we cannot even begin to comprehend. Considering the fact that microbial cells outnumber human cells in our bodies in a ratio of 10:1, we are more microbes than human beings. And, if this is war, then it is an exercise in self destruction.

Survival, for us, therefore, entails making our peace with the microbes. We need to remember that it is only a small proportion of the microbial community that is pathogenic. They turn renegades when there is a disruption of their ecosystem. A reconstitution of their ecological balance would, hence, be directly curative. Providing a wider variety of hosts for them might reduce the chances of Homo sapiens being the first (or only) choice of hosts. With a reduction in human infections, the need for use of antimicrobials to treat them would concomitantly decrease. A reduction in antibiotic pressure would also translate into a lesser quantum of antimicrobial resistance among microbes. Hence, getting eco-friendly may be one of the possibly unconventional, long term solutions for reducing the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance among microbes. An effort to preserve the diverse flora and fauna on our planet will pay us rich dividends in more ways than one.

The main feature that distinguishes us from other living beings is our capacity to plan far ahead into the future. If we use this capacity, this one major advantage we have over other life forms, to plan our transactions with microbes, we stand a fairly good chance of having as good an innings in this world as the microbes have had. This is not to say that all the effort put into development of antimicrobials and vaccines has been in vain. Far from it. It would be foolish of us to assume, even for a moment, that we can survive microbes without them. Instead, in addition to preservation of the diverse ecology of our planet, our strategy should involve a constant preparedness for war with the microbes, just in order to ensure lasting peace. Perhaps it is time for Homo sapiens to rethink its survival strategies.

 ~ References Top

1.Available from:  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Gill SR, Pop M, Deboy RT, Eckburg PB, Turnbaugh PJ, Samuel BS, et al. Metagenomic analysis of the human distal gut microbiome. Science 2006;312:1355-9.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Nicholson JK, Holmes E, Wilson ID. Gut microorganisms, mammalian metabolism and personalized health care. Nat Rev Microbiol 2005;3:431-8.   Back to cited text no. 3
4.O'Hara AM, Shanahan F. The gut flora as a forgotten organ. EMBO Rep. 2006;7:688-93.   Back to cited text no. 4
5.Available from: http://  Back to cited text no. 5


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