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Antibiotics are molecules of biological warfare.

Produced by bacteria and some fungi, in response to extracellular signals, antibiotics represent a diverse group of compounds that inhibit bacterial growth at different points and different stages of the life cycle.

We will get around to antibiotic resistance, but in these few words, I think I already wrote quite a bit. Admittedly, some of these ideas need a bit of chewing, if they are to be properly digested. Already, I can imagine hands raised and questions waiting to be asked.

What are antibiotics made of?

I’m confused about this idea of biological warfare. Why would bacteria make substances that can kill other bacteria?

You said bacteria make antibiotics! Don’t we use antibiotics to kill bacteria?

Bacteria (and a few fungi) make antibiotics. In other words, they are natural products; just as natural as ginseng, digitalis, and golden seal.

But who makes them?

Bacteria make them – more later, and they bear a strong physical resemblance to the fungi that make antibiotics.

Do they exchange DNA? Do they represent some odd branch of the phylogenetic tree?

What do these compounds do that inhibits bacterial growth? What do they kill and how do they do it?

How can bacteria make antibiotics if antibiotics inhibit bacterial growth? Isn’t this some kind of microbial suicide?

Come back soon and I’ll do my best to answer some of the questions.

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  1. #1 luna_the_cat
    November 28, 2006

    Do they exchange DNA? Do they represent some odd branch of the phylogenetic tree?

    Not that I’m complaining, and I do want to see your answer, but with that question aren’t you already assuming far more biology knowledge than the general public has?

  2. #2 Doc Bushwell
    November 28, 2006

    Re: antibiotic resistance – now this is one of my very favorite subjects!* Were these questions put forward in a biotech class? If I recall correctly, you’re teaching in such a course, right? In any event, nice part 1 primer and I’m looking forward to part 2.

    *Check your e-mail and you’ll see why. :^)

  3. #3 Sandra Porter
    November 28, 2006

    luna_the_cat & Doc B.

    To be honest, these are questions that interest me. I probably will use them as assignments in future classes, though. I’m teaching a continuing ed course on bioinformatics for Shoreline Community College in January and some of these should be good research topics.

  4. #4 carla womack
    December 16, 2010

    which antibiotic works by tricking the bacteria into thinking it is a necessary for its growth

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