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Friday, February 22, 2013

Superbugs? Not so super...

There has been plenty of talk about 'superbugs' lately.  They come with initials; MRSA and CRE and I'm sure there's more.  What I notice and expect to increase are the stories of alarm in the media about these villains. 

What everyone already knows is that they exist now because we have overused antibiotics to such an extent, that certain bacteria are now unfazed by them.  That point is very important -it holds the key on how we can improve this situation from here.  But the full picture is much bigger and much more interesting.

All living organisms can share some form of communication; humans, bugs, plants, bacteria - there is no exception.  Understanding the interplay between antibiotics and superbugs is rooted here.  Imagine for a moment there was a noise weapon created that could kill anyone who could hear.  Who would survive?  Deaf people.  After a long time, who would be the only ones to pass on their genes?  Those that cannot hear.  Using the way bacteria communicate with each other,  the little transmitting substances have been highly synthesized and weaponized until it's now an antibiotic.  The bacteria that could 'hear' have always been the ones destroyed by antibiotics.  The outlying 'deaf' microbe is what passes on the genes.

So now what?  We've got deaf bacteria completely out of balance with their environment and resistant to man-made intervention...  Your own immune system to the rescue.  Your immune system tackles bacterial invaders in a completely different style.  In fact there are two general ways your immune system keeps hostile bacteria subdued, super or not.

The first way is with this special cell we have inside us.  It's called a neutrophil.  Sure it may look like some purple smudge with a few more purple dots, to you. 

But to a hostile bacteria it looks entirely like this:

Instead of explosive projectiles however, a bacteria would be dealing with made-to-order antibodies.  A type of "bullet" perfectly specific to the facing-off bacteria.

The second type of bacteria defense does not involve "shooting" anything.  Instead, a big immune system cell called a macrophage eats the bugs.  The big red thing in the middle is the macrophage.  It just pulls it's target in, and munch munch.

This is similar to the story of another unrelenting pursuer, passionate to consume its target.

The bottom line: your strong immune system protects you from bugs, whether "super" or not.  Keep your immune system strong.  More on that to come.

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