87 years after Fleming´s discovery: antibiotics and their decadence?

Dr. Sonia Vazquez Flores is professor and researcher at the School of Food Engineering, Biotechnology and Agronomy -ESIABA- .      [email protected]

It seems that in the last decade certain infectious diseases are beyond medical control. Antibiotics show little efficiency and treatments last longer. This is occurring in both human and animal therapeutics. Since the discovery of penicillin by Dr. Alexander Fleming in 1928, antibiotics have saved numerous lives and are considered as indispensable in therapeutics. Nevertheless, self-medication practices and the use of antibiotics before a specific diagnosis have generated bacteria that are multi-resistant to antibiotics, they are called, super-bacteria. After the 2010 H1N1 influenza pandemic in Mexico, the sale of antibiotics was regulated by forcing the consumer to present a prescription.

A wise use of antibiotics by humans was essential, nevertheless, many countries including Mexico, do not have the same type of regulation regarding animal and plant production. In 2006, the European Union banned the use of preventive antibiotics in animals that were going to be consumed by humans. As a consequence, there were more animals that were sick and less productive which is contradictory to animal welfare and sustainability core principles. Apocalypse? Are we going to succumb to microorganisms? Fortunately, there is investigation that is looking for both natural and synthetic alternatives. Some natural alternatives come from the food itself; others come from yeast fermentation, from bacteria and their defense mechanisms.

There are prebiotics, probiotics, symbiotics, nutraceotics, vaccines, bacterines, immune modulators, antimicrobial peptides, enzymes, bacteriophages and fitobiotics. We are familiar with some of them because they are part of classic therapeutics or because they are a preventive option in allopathic medicine, some others seem to be the result of scientific imagination. For instance, some immunostimulants we see in food labels are selenium, zinc, oligosaccharides, vitamin A, C, E, in my opinion their consumption must be consulted with a physician.

Probiotics, which are so popular in dairy produce, are still under research because they offer some benefits but they also alter the microbial flora by modifying its balance. Some prebiotics in dairy infant formula have proved to be effective in fortifying microbial flora with a positive effect on the gastrointestinal tract. Bacteriophages are the bacterial viruses that invade bacteria cells and are the natural enemies of some bacteria.

Some of them are very effective in controlling very aggressive bacteria but there is still some doubt whether or not to use them in therapies as they involve the genetic material of bacteria. Phytobiotics are defined as plant derived products. They show interesting results due to their bioactive compounds. They are used to promote animal growth and have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Questions still remain about their toxicity levels, their compatibility with human and animal diets or the required dose for appropriate results.

Market has also changed, the global market for antibiotics and diagnostics will decrease from 7.2% to 4.1% in 2019 which would represent $46.5 billion dollars (Global Markets for Animal Therapueutics and Diagnostics). The biological products (vaccines and bacterines) market is expected to reach $57.8 billion dollars by 2019, 10.16% annual growth (Markets and Markets). The accurate diagnosis is imminent in determining the appropriate course of action and the efficiency of the products. The diagnosis must be defined by professionals. Science is still turning to nature to learn how to keep people in the world healthy. Are we heading for the solution fast enough?