New Superbug Prompts Warnings of 'Post-Antibiotic Era'
Mutation defeats drugs of last resort
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 20, 2015 4:03 AM CST
This illustration released by the Centers for Disease Control depicts a group of drug-resistant Enterobacteriaceae bacteria.   (AP Photo/Centers for Disease Control)

(Newser) – Less than 90 years after Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, the world is on the verge of returning to an era without antibiotics, scientists warn. Researchers have discovered bacteria in China that can defeat even the "antibiotic of last resort," reports the BBC, which describes the development as the possible start of an "antibiotic apocalypse." MCR-1, the mutated gene that resists colistin, the antibiotic used when others fail, appears to already be widespread among livestock in China and is beginning to appear in an alarming number of human infections, the New Scientist reports.

If the mutation spreads worldwide, "which is a case of when not if, and the gene aligns itself with other [antibiotic-resistant] genes, which is inevitable, then we will have very likely reached the start of the post-antibiotic era," researcher Timothy Walsh tells the BBC. But it isn't time to panic, according to Maddie Stone at Gizmodo, who notes that a powerful new class of antibiotics is currently being developed, and there may be many more in the pipeline. The discovery of MCR-1, however, suggests it's time to "stop letting the livestock industry throw all of our useful antibiotics down the drain," she writes. (Subway has become the latest chain to announce a switch to antibiotic-free meat.)