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Yolanda Devere

Scientists are
trying to find
new ways to
defeat bacteria
that can resist


Scientists have discovered new bacteria which resist the most powerful antibiotics. Doctors fear that unless scientists find new ways to fight these superbugs, it is only a matter of time before a new strain of killer bacteria appears that cannot be controlled.

Bacteria are the dominant form of life on Earth. There are more of them than any other creature. This is because they are able to multiply rapidly. They can change to avoid a threat before it can defeat them.

A single bacterium can produce billions of descendants a day. If just one bacterium resists an antibiotic then it will multiply, and all its descendants will be resistant to the drug. They have been doing this for a long time. Bacteria which were resistant to penicillin, the first antibiotic drug, were found very soon after its introduction in the 1940s.

So far doctors and scientists have always been able to develop new types of antibiotics that can defeat the new strains. But new bacteria have been discovered that can resist even the most powerful antibiotics. Scientists are investigating other ways they can resist these superbugs.

One method is very simple: to make sure doctors use antibiotics less often. This will not prevent new superbugs from developing, but it will slow down the process. In Europe and the USA it is thought that antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily in a third of all cases.

Sometimes it is the patients' fault. They demand antibiotics to treat all illnesses, even those caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not work against viruses.

Another method is to use creams instead of pills. Applying an antibiotic cream just to the area of infection is better than taking a pill that kills all the bacteria in your body. There is less chance of resistant bacteria developing.

Another answer is an old idea that was abandoned after the power of penicillin was discovered. It uses bacteria's natural enemies - viruses known as bacteriophages. These ‘bug-eating bugs’ enter the bacterium and kill them. They are more effective than antibiotics in some animal studies.

Scientists in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and Britain are looking at how to use them to treat infected humans. But even bacteriophages have to be matched to exact types of bacteria.

The race is on for scientists to find new ways to beat these superbugs. These new superbugs don’t just give you a sore throat. They can kill.

Bacteria Facts

On average they measure one or two millionths of a metre.

They multiply by dividing in two.

Some can divide as fast as once every 12 minutes.

They come in three types: spherical, rod-shaped or spiral-shaped.

They can live anywhere from human skin - an average of 100,000 per square centimetre - to undersea volcanoes and even in oil.

Some bacteria can kill: E. coli is a common cause of food poisoning.

Source: English Digest


Read the article again and find the answers to the following questions. Then check your answers here.

1. When was penicillin introduced?

2. What can doctors do to slow down the spread of superbugs?

3. What are bacteriophages?

4. How do bacteria multiply?

5. Which kind of bacteria commonly causes food poisoning?


fear: temen
unless: a menos que, si no
superbugs: organismo resistente a los antibióticos
strain: cepa (de bacteria)
appears: aparezca
are able to: pueden, tienen la capacidad de
to avoid a threat: a fin de evitar un peligro
defeat them: combatirlas
single bacterium: sola (bacterium, singular; bacteria, plural)
descendants a day: descendientes por día
so far: hasta ahora
develop: desarrollar
method: método
less often: con menor frecuencia
prevent: impedir
from developing: que se desarrollen
slow down: retardar el proceso
it is thought that: se piensa que
prescribed: recetados

patients' fault: error del paciente
to treat: para tratar
against: contra
creams: cremas, ungüentos, pomadas
bacteriophages: bacteriófagos (virus que infectan bacterias)
to be matched to: ser compatibles con
the race is on: se ha largado la carrera
to beat: derrotar, vencer
sore throat: inflamación de garganta
on average: en promedio
by dividing: dividiéndose
as fast as: tan velozmente como
spherical: esféricas
tubular (en forma de bastón)
human skin: piel humana
undersea volcanoes: volcanes subterráneos
even in oil: hasta en petróleo
food poisoning: intoxicación alimenticia