Scientists watch as bacteria evolve antibiotic resistance | Science News

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Scientists watch as bacteria evolve antibiotic resistance

Growth patterns reveal E. coli’s path to becoming superbugs

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2:00pm, September 8, 2016
picture of bacteria on enormous petri dish

PETRI PLATTER  A petri dish more than a meter long helped scientists visualize the evolution of antibiotic resistance in E. coli bacteria. Bacteria placed on the outer edges had to adapt to higher and higher levels of antibiotics as they moved toward the center of the plate.

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For bacteria, practice makes perfect: Adjusting to ever higher levels of antibiotics preps them to morph into super resistant strains, and scientists can now watch it happen. A new device — a huge petri dish coated with different concentrations of antibiotics — makes this normally hidden process visible, microbiologist Michael Baym and colleagues report in the Sept. 9 Science. The setup gives a step-by-step picture of how garden-variety microbes become antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

“As someone who’s studied evolutionary biology for a long time, I think it has a real wow factor,” says Sam Brown, a microbiologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta who wasn’t involved in the study. The bacteria are “climbing this impossible mountain of antibiotics.”

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