“We have with us Phyl Aureo M, the millionth direct descendent of Phyl Aureo the First, the founder and leader of the Resistance Movement. He is here to read an excerpt from his new novel- The Gene: A Horizontal History.”
“It was the year 1943.
Our community was multiplying and infecting in peace, when suddenly, our numbers started dwindling.
The humans had declared war on us. Our ancestors call it ‘The Bacteria Battle’.
Image source: https://www.sott.net/article/308354-The-troubling-case-of-antibiotic-resistance-and-infectious-disease
Leading this war was a scientist known as Alexander Fleming. He developed the one weapon that sends shivers down our DNAs even today- Penicillin. This drug killed millions from our community to save humans from dying in their war- the World War II.
It was a dark time for us. We had no place to live, no protein supplements, and our children were dying. Our economy was hit with the sudden drop in infection rates. But as our saying goes- ‘every healed human has a silver infection opening’- we found our first miracle warrior who would lead us into the era of ‘The Resistance Movement.’ Born in the human hospital to a normal parent, this warrior had a genetic mutation that made him resist, survive and thrive under Penicillin attack. While the humans called him Staphylococcus aureus, we know him as the great Phyl Aureo the First.
By 1952, the doctors in the hospitals were aware of the possibility of existence of our silent coup. Their leader had warned them about this. The Resistance Movement was growing steadily with our infection rates rising from 14% in 1946 to 59% in 1948 in hospitals. Our resistance renaissance was expanding as Phyl Aureo the First transmitted his mutated DNA to his offspring by a process that is auspicious in our community- ‘Horizontal Gene Transfer’ (HGT) (also known as Lateral Gene Transfer). This process, that is prevalent even today, occurs by several mechanisms, some of which, your parents might be familiar with.
Transformation is one of those processes, which is rather common in our community, in which our gene is altered as a foreign genetic material (DNA or RNA) is introduced, taken up, and expressed by our bodies. Transduction is another process in which our DNA is moved amongst each other with the help of our ally- the virus. Conjugation, a coveted ceremony in our community, is when a donor bacterium transfers his DNA via a plasmid (the genetic structure in our bodies that replicates independently of the chromosomes and carries the antibiotic resistance gene) to a recombinant recipient bacterium, during cell-to-cell contact.
Irrespective of the mechanism used, the Resistance Movement started gaining momentum. The two decades from 1950s to 1970s saw a boom in the mass production of a variety of antibiotic artillery to kill us- including streptomycin (for endocarditis and plague) and ampicillin (for respiratory tract infections and meningitis). But the humans were in for a surprise.
Just as their leader, Mr. Fleming, had predicted, our resistance to Penicillin built up due to the easy accessibility of the drug. By 1955, many countries had tried to slow this resistance, but it was already too late- we had successfully defeated the antibiotic. Celebrations erupted in our community with more infections, as we marked our triumph over the antibiotic with the phrase every one of us, and the humans, are familiar with: ‘Get a taste of your own medicine’.
However, our battle was far from over. In 1960, scientists developed a new antibiotic called methicillin, in an attempt to attack our penicillin-resistant warriors. But within a year, we resisted even methicillin with new, front-line soldiers, which the humans called ‘MRSA’ or ‘methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.’ We caused mayhem with human skin infections including abscesses (or pus collection, for those of you who are still in school and haven’t studied the course: ‘Know What You Cause’), respiratory infections such as sinusitis or sinus infection, and food poisoning. We then moved our camps into the human bloodstream, their joints, heart valves, bones and lungs, and caused severe pain and even death. Our MRSA strains became one of the biggest forerunners of multiple drug-resistant (MDR) bacteria, the organization that we established, as we joined hands with Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci (VRE) and Extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBLs) producing Gram-negative bacteria, such as Acinetobacter. We had now expanded to urinary tract infections, bacteremia, endocarditis and meningitis with this partnership.
In 2011, our economy flourished as the MRSA infection rates shot up with more than 80000 invasive infections, according to the human CDC or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our accountants reported 11,285 MRSA related deaths in the same year, as was stated by CDC. Our close friends, the community of Neisseria gonorrhoeae (causing gonorrhea), are also resistant to penicillin. Our bacterial community has grown stronger with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (causing tuberculosis) extending their hand in resistance alliance, as they joined the bandwagon by being resistant to various drugs, and getting their new name: multiple-drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MDR-TB). Our numbers have exploded, our genes have mutated and the Resistance Movement is seeing a new dawn every 12 hours with each new generation. Although the humans are trying to synthesize new drugs and researching ways to control and defeat us, we must stay strong. We must show great spirit like Phyl Aureo the First. He may not be here with us, but he will always be alive through his genes in our cells.
“Thank you for the amazing insight, sir. I request those who have registered for the Horizontal Gene Donation Campaign to stay back with their respective recipients.”
Written by: Ms. Sharvari Narendra (@DiabolicalDesi ) the first prize winner for the blog competition organized by 'The YSS Lab'.