Prelims cum Mains Science & Tech

Scientists map genes of 3,000 bacteria

The News:

  • In order to find new ways to fight drug-resistant superbugs, scientists have mapped the genomes of more than 3,000 bacteria.


News Highlights

  • The data included genome codes of more than 5,500 bugs
  • The samples included a bug taken from Alexander Fleming’s nose and a dysentery-causing strain called Shigella flexneri from a World War One soldier.
  • The DNA of deadly strains of plague, dysentery and cholera were also decoded.


Importance of genome data

  • Around 70 percent of bacteria are already resistant to at least one antibiotic.
  • In addition the evolution of ‘superbugs’ that can evade one or multiple drugs is a serious threat.
  • The world is also facing antibiotic shortage and supply chain breakdowns that could quickly spiral into outbreaks of disease and consequently antibiotic resistance.
  • Among the most serious risks is tuberculosis – which infects more than 10.4 million people a year and killed 1.7 million in 2016.
  • Gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease is becoming almost untreatable.
  • Data on what bacteria looked like before and during the introduction of antibiotics and vaccines could in turn help us develop new antibiotics and vaccines.


Basics: About Bacteria

  • Bacteria are single-celled organisms, with an envelope surrounding the cytoplasm, which contains the DNA (they have no nuclei).
  • Bacterial cells undergo binary fission, and a single cell can grow into a colony of cells.
  • Bacteria carry genetic information in two structures:
  1. Bacterial chromosome: the genes that provide instructions for all of the basic life processes of a bacterium are usually located in a circular DNA molecule.
  2. Plasmids: Besides their main chromosome, many bacteria have additional genetic information—circular DNA molecules called plasmids that carry genes for specific functions.
  • Resistance plasmids are genes enabling bacteria to resist the effects of antibiotics.
  • As a result of presence of plasmid genetic information is not only transmitted through binary fission from parent to daughter cells but within the same generation through a process called conjugation.



  • Microbes live everywhere they can, and compete for the best places to attach themselves and the richest sources of food to eat.
  • This competition takes mainly 2 forms:
  1. Rapid growth to crowd competitors out of a living space
  2. Superior ability to take in nutrients to starve competitors
  • Antibiotics are produced by microbes to help them compete with other microbes, and most of the antibiotics we use today are derived from microbes.


Antibiotic resistance

  • Multidrug-resistant organisms are bacteria that have become resistant to certain antibiotics, and these antibiotics can no longer be used to control or kill the bacteria.
  • Bacteria that resist treatment with more than one antibiotic are called multidrug-resistant organisms or superbugs.
  • Bacteria and other microbes have developed a variety of ways to resist antibiotics:
  1. Some bacteria pump an antibiotic out of their cells as fast as it enters, so it never reaches a lethal concentration inside the bacterial cell.
  2. Some have proteins that bind to the antibiotic molecule and block its lethal effect.
  3. Third category has enzymes that break down the antibiotic molecules, which are then used as fuel to help the bacteria grow faster.
  • Many of the genes that code for resistance are on plasmids meaning that a bacterium carrying a resistance gene can transmit the gene to other bacteria within the same generation by conjugation.




Superbugs in India

  • India is antibiotic popping capital of the world, consuming around 13 billion annually.

Causes of multi-drug resistance in India

  • Self-medication.
  • OTC- Over the counter medication.
  • Over-prescribing of antibiotics by doctors and unregulated use
  • Incomplete antibiotic dosage.
  • Antibiotic use in agriculture and livestock.
  • Bad sanitation practices leading to spread of strains.
  • Lack of regulation of the discharge of antimicrobial waste into the environment.


Steps taken by India to combat AMR


  • Global Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System (GLASS) was launched in 2015 by WHO to support the global action plan on antimicrobial resistance.
  • The aim is to support global surveillance and research in order to strengthen the evidence base on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and help informing decision-making and drive national, regional, and global actions.
  • India has enrolled to GLASS system.


2. Redline campaign

  • India has launched Red Line campaign to curb over-the-counter use of antibiotics.
  • The idea is to put a red line on antibiotic which are prescription-only antibiotics to curb their irrational use and create awareness on the dangers of taking antibiotics without being prescribed.


3. National Action Plan to combat Antimicrobial Resistance 2017

  • In 2017, India developed a National Action Plan to combat Antimicrobial Resistance for a coordinated approach to fight antimicrobial resistance.
  • Delhi declaration was signed to adopt the multi-sectoral and inter-ministerial action plan and for collectively strategizing to contain AMR by Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Health & Family Welfare.
  • Objectives include
  1. Enhancing awareness
  2. Strengthening surveillance
  3. Improving rational use of antibiotics
  4. Reducing infections
  5. Promoting research
  • In addition, India aims to support neighbouring countries in collective fight against infectious diseases.

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