Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem worldwide. Bacteria have evolved to be able to withstand the use of antibiotics, which has led to the development of superbugs that are resistant to multiple antibiotics. This has become a serious public health concern as it makes the treatment of bacterial infections incredibly difficult. However, researchers at Harvard Medical School have developed a novel way to study antibiotic resistance using a giant petri dish.
The giant petri dish is aptly named the Microbial Evolution and Growth Arena (MEGA) plate. Its size is impressive, measuring 60cm by 120cm. The MEGA plate is filled with agar, a jelly-like substance used to grow bacteria. The agar is infused with antibiotics, and the plate is separated into sections with increasing concentrations of the drug.
This design allows researchers to observe the evolution of bacteria and their resistance to antibiotics. The bacteria start at the edges of the dish, where the antibiotic concentration is low. As they grow and divide, they move towards the centre of the dish where the antibiotic concentration is higher. If a particular strain of bacteria has developed resistance to the antibiotic, it will continue to grow as it moves towards the centre of the dish.
The MEGA plate has been used to study the evolution of E. coli, a common bacterium that can cause a range of infections. The results of the study were fascinating. The researchers discovered that E. coli could develop resistance to antibiotics in just a matter of days. As the bacteria grew towards the centre of the dish where the antibiotic concentration was higher, some strains started to develop mutations that allowed them to survive in the presence of the drug.
One particularly interesting aspect of the study was the discovery of “cheats.” These were bacteria that had not developed resistance themselves but were able to survive by feeding off the resistance of nearby bacteria. This phenomenon has been observed in natural environments where bacteria compete for limited resources. It highlights the complexity of bacterial evolution and the need to consider the entire microbial ecosystem, not just individual strains.
The MEGA plate has also been used to study the effectiveness of alternative treatments, such as phage therapy. Phages are viruses that infect and kill bacteria. They have been proposed as a potential alternative to antibiotics as they have a more targeted effect and are less likely to lead to resistance. The MEGA plate allowed researchers to observe the evolution of bacteria in the presence of phages, and they found that the bacteria were able to develop resistance to the phage over time. However, the researchers also noted that the bacteria developed different mutations in response to the phage than they did in response to antibiotics. This highlights the potential of phages as an alternative treatment.
The use of giant petri dishes like the MEGA plate is an exciting development in the study of antibiotic resistance. It allows researchers to observe the evolution of bacteria in real-time and in a more natural setting than traditional laboratory methods. This, in turn, can lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance and the development of new treatments.
However, the MEGA plate also raises important questions about the ethics of studying bacteria in this way. The plate is essentially a controlled environment for the evolution of bacteria, and there is concern that it could lead to the development of superbugs that could escape into the environment. There are also concerns about the use of antibiotics in the plate, as this could be contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistance. These are important considerations that need to be taken into account when using giant petri dishes in research.
In conclusion, the use of giant petri dishes like the MEGA plate is a fascinating development in the study of antibiotic resistance. It allows researchers to observe the evolution of bacteria in a more natural setting and can lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms of resistance. However, there are also important ethical considerations that need to be taken into account. Ultimately, the use of giant petri dishes should be part of a broader approach to the problem of antibiotic resistance, which includes measures to reduce the use of antibiotics and the development of new treatments.