Resisting a Myth

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Microbial resistance to antibiotics is one of the most commonly claimed evidences for evolution. So will the new “clue” to its workings be evidence for evolution as well?

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According to evolutionists—and, frequently, as portrayed in the media—microbes becoming resistant to antibiotics is an example of evolution in action. Creationists counter that such resistance is (whenever observed) either already existent in the bacterial population, or else is the result of a loss or alteration of existing genetic information rather than an increase. (For a primer, see Antibiotic Resistance of Bacteria: An Example of Evolution in Action?)

The researchers found that inhibiting nitric oxide production helped the antibiotics do their job—even in less toxic amounts.

In a new study, New York University researchers report in Science a correlation between bacterial production of nitric oxide and its resistance to antibiotics. Specifically, bacterial enzymes synthesize the nitric oxide from the amino acid arginine. The nitric oxide then helps alleviate the “oxidative stress” and the toxic compounds that are the weapons of many antibiotics.

In accordance with their discovery, the researchers found that inhibiting nitric oxide production helped the antibiotics do their job—even in less toxic amounts.

The scientists hope that inhibiting the bacterial production of nitric oxide will be a key to overcoming antibiotic resistance. “Here, we have a short cut, where we don’t have to invent new antibiotics,” said study leader Evgeny Nudler. “Instead we can enhance the activity of well-established ones, making them more effective at lower doses.”

Notable is that the bacterial production of nitric oxide seems to be a built-in function of the bacteria to help them survive. In the face of ongoing human administration of antibiotics over the years, the bacteria whose nitric oxide production is superior have been more likely to survive. This is also probably the case in the microcosm of individual patient infections as well. But in none of the cases are the bacteria “evolving” to become something different, or to become more complex. Rather, natural selection is acting on the pre-existing traits in a bacterial population and reducing the diversity of a population that faces antibiotics—so that in the end, only the resistant remain.

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